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Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in His Name, They are Almost Certain to Misinterpret Matthew 18:20

Mat 18:20  ” For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

We may as well get this out of the way right up front. Matthew 18:20 has NOTHING to do with prayer, corporate or otherwise.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Prayer is an important part of the Christian walk. It just isn’t being discussed in this passage. To insist on using it to speak of prayer causes two problems.

1. It conceals the true meaning of the text, robbing the church of the value that Matthew 18:20 was intended to provide it.

2. It creates unhealthy ideas about prayer and Christ’s relationship to it.

Let’s explore the first issue today. I’ll pick up #2 another day.

Chapter 18 is the 4th major discourse in Mathew; it centers on the future development of the “church” under the authority of the twelve. It emphasizes what I call “Kingdom Accounting,” detailing the need for child-like faith, deep care for others, and a merciful & forgiving order. For they, like those over whom they have been given charge, will answer for what they do and how they do it. (see Fig. # 1)

People are easily fooled when they see statements like “…anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” Who wouldn’t think about prayer? But context is king.

Mat 18:18ff says, “Truly, 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. 19 Again 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. 20  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The term translated again, here, tells us that vs. 19 is a repetition of the central idea of vs. 18. “As touching anything” speaks of anything related to the topic at hand. Verse 18, and the entire discussion from 18:15-20 concerns judgment of wrong doing.

Compare 18:16 “But 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,” with Deu 19:15  “A single witness shall not suffice…. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” This wording is found twice more. Matt 18:19  says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree…” and Mat 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name….”

Binding and loosing is a known Jewish phrase, meaning to forbid by an indisputable authority, and to permit by an indisputable authority—to make judgments.It concerned authoritative bodies deciding disputes. The two main schools in early Judaism were summed up by the quip “the school of Shammai binds; the school of Hillel looses.” This intention is made more apparent by its repetition from Matt 16:19, “I 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.” Keys equal authority.

When the Disciples seek for greatness Jesus counters with “Kingdom Accounting”—child-like faith, deep concern for others, and a pursuit of the salvation of the lost. Even in the face of overt sinfulness, redemption should be sought until all means have been exhausted. 18:15 says, if one sins, try to win him privately; 16 says, if he won’t listen, try to win him before witnesses; 17 says, if he won’t listen, try to win him before the whole church. If that fails, you must deal with him harshly. 20 Christ will back you up.

This is too important of an idea to allow even a good message about prayer to drown it out.

One thought on “Wherever Two or Three are Gathered in His Name, They are Almost Certain to Misinterpret Matthew 18:20

  1. Rev. Rolan DeLoach says:

    Hey Andrew, Really appreciate what you had to say, I agree about the way we so frequently mis-apply Scripture. Keep em coming. Trusting in God’s grace, Rolan

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