In regards to your concern, it would be wrong to teach Matthew 18:15-20 as one interpretation and just one application. Each passage in Scripture is going to have only one interpretation, that will always remain constant, but the Holy Spirit can cause us to see where each passage in Scripture will have more than one application. The application will always stay along the same lines as the interpretation. For instance, when Paul brings up the Old Testament Scripture about not muzzling the ox in 1 Corinthians 9:8-12. The interpretation of the Scripture that he is referring to is, do not muzzle the ox when it is treading grain. Paul is able to expound on the literal interpretation to bring out a great application that is still being used today. Both applications draw back on the interpretation. The ox is working; therefore, it should be compensated for its work. The ox is not able to use money and is driven by its animal instincts, therefore, compensate it with what it is desiring, food. Paul’s application is just the same, but applied to humans. It works for Christians and non-Christians alike. This is used for anyone who labors, employees. Jesus told His disciples this in Luke 10:7. Paul also brings this out in 1 Timothy 5:18. It is also used for the person who is laboring for the spiritual fruits and does not necessarily always make a physical product that can be exchange for the needs of the body as Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 9:8-12 and also 1 Timothy 5:18. (Pairing both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 together.) So right there, from one in interpretation we have three application all attested to in Scripture, but still just one interpretation.
For Matthew 18:15-20 the interpretation, as you stated you agree with Pastor Scott in context, is about church discipline. If you begin to go outside of the Scriptures context to make doctrines, you begin to move into the realm of heresy. I am not saying that when people misinterpret Matthew 18:15-20 it is heresy, but it is incorrect and it can lead to that. (As Pastor Scott explained this is common misinterpretation of the scripture and it can easily be corrected.) The applications that can come from a misinterpretation can be heresy. Does bringing more people together make the prayer more powerful so that God must answer it as they are requesting? If so can I get multiple people together so that I can get that muscle car I’ve always wanted and then God must do it? That is often how Matthew 18:19-20 is misinterpreted. It has caused a lot of heartache to people even when it wasn’t used selfishly, as my examples above. I know it seems like a silly example, but the logic is sound.
The application must also fit into God’s character; therefore, we teach so much on character to begin the Shepherd School and General Ministry. The character that desire the Holy Spirit to plant deeply and frequently into your minds in the first two modules/quarters, is the character that God displays in Himself. To continue with my previous example, God is not selfish or evil, therefore, God does not always give us what we want even though we pray for it. He knows that a good parent should not always give their children what they want all the time because it will spoil them. Sometimes it is more important that they give them a hard lesson, a correction or silence so that the children get back to the thing they should already be doing, as they were commanded. Not everyone who reads the Scripture or that is in Church regularly uses the same discernment as those who have been studying it for years. We must be careful how we teach for we are held to a stricter judgment according to James 3:1. So we must do our due diligence to find that application that fits into the context and interpretation of Scripture and God’s character. This is what Module/Quarter Three teaches.
Now for you question, would it be considered eisegesis or spiritualizing if you consider that Jesus may also be re-emphasizing (with the word “Again” at the beginning of Matt:18:19) previous teachings such as Matt. 7:7-10? Using the explanation written above, the answer is yes, it is eisegesis. Matthew 7 is a continuation of the sermon on the mount that began in chapter 5 and was to His Disciples. When you read through these chapters, you see Jesus properly teaching them about the God they serve. God is not a strict, unapproachable, overbearing and non-relational God that the teachers of the day had made Him out to be through their teachings and examples. On the contrary, through covering sacrifices then and now the perfect cleansing sacrifice of Jesus, His followers could and can have an amazing relationship with a truly merciful, approachable, burden removing and relational God. In the Matthew 7:7-12 Jesus is teaching them who God the Father is and how they should act in life through His example of how God the Father works in prayer. The key to this is in verses 11 and 12. If we who are in sins according to the fleshly works, now how to act well towards others, how much more will our Father in Heaven, who is perfect treat us when we ask for the things we need according to His will. Since God has exampled this for you in life by His goodness, you also do to others. This fulfills all the law written by Moses through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Now let’s contrast this with Matthew 18:15-20. Matthew 18 is similar to Matthew 7, in that Jesus is still showing the Disciples that God is relational, but now is speaking about His ability to be relational specifically through forgiveness and grace as well as how to handle church discipline. They have also moved on in time and location from the mount where they were speaking. In other words, this is not the same conversation.
The next part of the explanation is that Jesus is not talking about prayer at all in these verses. Matthew 18:15-18 is where Jesus explains how to apply the Old Testament to the New Testament situation that will arise in the future for the disciples. In verse 16 he quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 and explains that it is necessary to have two or more witnesses to bring and accusation against a brother who is living continually in a sin without repentance. If they hear the sound reasoning and logic of the Scriptures and repent then they can remain bound to the body of Christ, the Church, but if they refuse to repent then they must be loosed from the body of Christ. The terminology seems strange, but when compared to 1 Corinthians, when Paul spoke of the man who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife, they are the same. A simple translation of what Paul is saying to the Believers in Corinth is, do not keep this man bound in the church, loose him to satan for the buffeting of the flesh that his soul may be saved. Then later on we see that even though a person may need to be excommunicated, that it does not need to be forever, such a one can be restored or bound again to the body of Christ.
Verses 15-18 are the example of the problem and what should be done. Verses 19-20 are the explanation of how the outcomes work. This is a very common way to teaching in historical times, but is not entirely different to the way we teach now. The Jews would often teach the concept and then would flesh out the concept further. This is exactly what Jesus is doing. The Greek language does not work the same way the English language does. Everything is not laid out in succinct chronological order and uses the proper tense of the Greek words to connect thoughts together. This is the case when Pastor Scott says that again refers to the previous four verses above it. The two clausal statements are connected by the word again.
Let’s examine 19 now. Again, connects the clause statements and gives context to who is speaking and being referred to in the next two verses. I, refers to the speaker, in this case Jesus. Say to you, tells us that Jesus is speaking to His Disciples as it is a continuation of the conversation that began in verse 1. That if two of you, Jesus is speaking of the Disciples again. Agree on earth concerning anything that, refers to a judgment being made about any situation that is brought to their attention after Jesus is gone. The reason He says earth is because Jesus was not always going to be physically present with us, so through the Holy Spirit, the Disciples became the authoritative figures on earth. That authority was continued by those raised up by them and left after their deaths, like Paul did with Timothy which is noted in 2 Timothy 2:2. Authorities are put in place by God as seen in Romans 13, so the pastors that He calls are put in place by him. Therefore, pastors can continue this line of authority established by Jesus here. They ask, If Jesus is already speaking and He is speaking to the Disciples, the they, must refer to someone outside of their group. They, refers to the people in the example and those who would come. The sinner, the brother, and the two witnesses. Who would the people referred to by ,they, bring their issues to? The leaders of the church, which of course in the time come after Jesus’ death, were the Disciples. It will be done by my Father in heaven, the, it, refers to what the Disciples agree to on earth concerning the judgment that was made. God the Father can bind and loose permanently.
Now verse 20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, refers to those in who hold leadership positions, such as the disciples or pastors today. I am there in the midst of them, this is in reference to Jesus’ spiritual authority, placed on Him by the Father in Matthew 28:18 and explained in Philippians 2:5-11. It does not make sense that Jesus would be saying that only when two or three are gathered together in His name is He present with them. God is in all places at the same time. He is everywhere present or as it is commonly referred to, omnipresent. So, it cannot mean that He would be present only when there is more than one Christian around. No, God is always with us even before we surrender our lives to Christ and then more consciously present to us because of the Holy Spirit residing with in us. Since Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are a triune God, meaning that they are three persons in one God, then because the Holy Spirit abides in us, then so does Jesus. When Jesus abides in us, then so does the Father; because the Father abides in Jesus and Jesus with the Father. (John 14) That is the spiritual authority that He is granting those He has place there.
Verses 19 and 20 do not speak of prayer, they speak of passing proper judgment and how God backs up that decision with His ability and authority. Therefore, it is considered eisegesis to say that God is re-emphasizing Matthew 7:7-11 at this point in Scripture. It would be good, however, to use the principles found in Matthew 7:7-11 and James 1:5 to help in the situations that are presented to you, so that you will handle them well when they come.
Next, we will move on to your question, why wouldn’t the same authority of His promised presence apply to more than just church discipline that when two or more come into agreement in “His Name” asking(prayer) “anything” (forgiveness, healing, evangelism, administration, etc.)? It doesn’t apply the same way, because He has not given that specific authority to all believers; the asking does not refer to prayer and anything refers to the situations brought before the leaders, where people should be confronted to determine whether excommunication is necessary. That authority belongs to those who God has raised up for the intended purposes He has called them to. This does not mean there are no other levels of authority granted to Christians outside of those given to the Church leaders. For example, Parents have and should exercise the authority given to them by God for the raising of their children.
Next, let’s move on to your question, couldn’t the principle of wisdom in numbers – Ecc. 4:9-12, Prov. 15:22, Prov. 11:14 and a word being established in the mouth of two or more witnesses apply when going before the Lord in prayer? When making important decisions, especially of the life altering type, you would be foolish not to seek counsel from those who have more wisdom in the matter than you. When applying these verses to Matthew 18:15-20, it is also intelligent to gather one or two like-minded men to help you make the decision to excommunicate a person from church, but it may not always be possible to do so in certain situations. Jesus said that if two of you agree and again where two or three are gathered then His authority is with them. Most churches have a board to help with those situations. So, the pastor and another leader, in our case a board member can remove a person from the church.
As to your last question. I don’t see why it would be wrong, but I am not sure why it would be necessary either. God already said that in the situation where a matter is brought before the authorities in the church that once they make a prayerful, investigative and logical judgment into a specific matter that He will stand behind the authority given. Jesus said let your yes be yes and your no, no. So, if you say that you are going to hold a person accountable, then do it. If you don’t plan on following through on it, then don’t say you will. God knows what decisions you make. He will hold those accountable for each the thing they say they will do and do not end up completing.
Glad to have you as part of the school, Russ.
Bible College Director
- This reply was modified 10 months ago by Michael.