Commonly Misused Bible Verses: Matthew 18:19–20

Both Christians and unbelievers are guilty of misusing Bible verses by ripping them from their original context.

This is post #4 in the Commonly Misused Bible Verses series. So far I have commented on 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Jeremiah 29:11. These two verses are often pulled out of their contexts by well-meaning Christians. Matthew 7:1 is a very popular verse for unbelievers to misuse. Click on the links for more information on any of those articles.

For today’s post, I want to take a look at another verse that is frequently misused by well-meaning Christians. Bear in mind that I am not trying to pick on anyone or attack them for misusing these verses. Most of the time they are misused because we have heard someone else misuse them and we’re used to hearing the verse in a particular (but wrong) context, so we repeat the same error. This series is designed to encourage people to take a close look at Scripture before repeating what we’ve heard.

Commonly Misused Bible Verse #4: Matthew 18:19–20

Think about how many times you have heard someone quote or summarize this passage during a prayer or immediately before praying.

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19–20, NKJV)

The idea that is commonly promoted is that if there are two or more people gathered together who agree on something, and they ask God for it in prayer, then Jesus will be present and God will answer their request.

If you’ve read any of the other posts in this series, then you know that we need to look at the context to see what is wrong with the way many people use this verse. However, before we do that, can you see some problems with the idea that God will grant the request of those who come together and are in agreement in prayer? First of all, Jesus said “where two or three are gathered” in His name, so how could this apply to settings of four or more? Also, why would it take two or three believers to be gathered together for Jesus to be in their midst? Isn’t He already present in each and every individual believer? So even if one Christian prays, isn’t Jesus already there?

So there are already a couple of problems with the common use of this passage. Now let’s take a look at the context. This section deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: church discipline. Jesus said that if you have a brother who sins against you, then you need to go to him and try to work it out. If he refuses to acknowledge his fault, then you bring one or two more witnesses to help work things out. So including you, that would make two or three witnesses—recognize that phrase? Not only is it repeated in these verses, but it comes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15 and more). Legal cases needed to have two or three witnesses to establish a matter.

Back to Jesus’ story. If the sinning brother did not make things right in the presence of two or three witnesses, then the case was to be brought before the church. If he refused to listen to the church’s decision, then he was to be thrown out of the congregation. I know that sounds harsh in our day because precious few churches practice discipline as Jesus instructed, but that is what we are commanded to do.

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Tim’s latest book is a practical apologetic on the Resurrection of Jesus. See for more details.

It is with this in mind that Jesus said that the Father would grant the request of two or more who gather together in Christ’s name and are in agreement. Agreement on what? On disciplining the erring brother. That’s what this passage is about and yet so many Christians use it as though Jesus promised to answer their prayers when offered in certain situations.

Before I finish this post let me stress what the Bible actually does say about prayer. The Apostle John wrote, “Now this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14–15). John also wrote, “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).

So we can have confidence about God answering our prayers when we are obediently following Him and praying according to His will. If you haven’t experienced answered prayer, then perhaps you aren’t living in obedience and/or praying according to His will (or maybe He did answer it and you didn’t recognize the response because He often answers in ways we don’t expect).


Commonly Misused Bible Verses: Matthew 18:19–20 — 188 Comments

  1. Thanks for this!! I appreciate your passion towards understanding the bible in context, and you also explain it very very well. Thank you, and keep up the amazing work you are doing!

  2. Quoted from the article:


    “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19–20, NKJV)

    The idea that is commonly promoted is that if there are two or more people gathered together who agree on something, and they ask God for it in prayer, then Jesus will be present and God will answer their request.


    Uh, well, yeah, that “idea” is precisely what the passage states. The persistently abused “context” argument used in the article fails miserably. This article is actually a better example of how the context argument is misused, rather than how the verses are misused.

    The true context is crystal clear — couldn’t be any clearer, actually. The parallel is between two or three witnesses strengthening a case, which in this *particular* case involves “church discipline.” Having “two or three witnesses” who *agree* strengthens *any* case, church discipline or not. So……the context involves having multiple witnesses that agree to support a case in general, not just church discipline in particular. Having two or three witnesses who agree in prayer make a strong case to God, just as having two or three witnesses who have agreeing testimonies in court make a strong case there. It couldn’t be clearer.

    One glaring omission in the article is the failure to address the first word: “Again.” It’s clear from this that Jesus has stated this before — likely many times. His frustration comes through loud and clear; it’s like He’s saying, “Come on, guys, don’t you get it yet? I keep telling you, but you just don’t get it.” It’s quite likely that in the earlier cases He used examples other than church discipline to illustrate the point.

    The “two or three” question is more of an expression, simply suggesting more than one person is praying (in agreement, of course). Why more than one, when other passages teach that one person alone in his/her prayer closet is heard? I don’t know the answer to that one, nor do I know why the “prayer of agreement” doesn’t get answered in many cases. At least I admit that I do not know, rather than try to twist something with such an obvious meaning into something not even close to the passage’s intent, in a feeble attempt to make the passage line up with reality. It reminds me of James White taking hours to twist John 3:16 from saying, “For God so loved the world…” to “For God so loved the ELECT…” Sheesh….come on, man.

    • It’s interesting that you think the true context is crystal clear and yet disagree with me. I would agree that it is crystal clear, and what I laid out in this very brief article is in line with the majority of Christian commentators on the book of Matthew. See my comment here detailing several of these:
      Also, the word “again” was discussed in several of the comments following the article. The reason He says “Again” is because He had just talked about two or three in verses 16–17. Here’s a link to one of the comments that discusses this in more detail: Your proof for your understanding of “again” is pure conjecture (we have no record of Him teaching these things prior to this), yet verses 16–17 show us why He says, “Again.”
      I think it’s interesting that you compare a very short article (845 words) to James White taking hours to twist John 3:16 to make “the world” mean “the elect.” How exactly are 845 words similar to hours of explanation? For the record, I haven’t heard James White on this, although I have heard people try to make it mean “the elect” and I absolutely agree with you that to do that is to distort John 3:16 for no other reason than to fit one’s theology. The meaning of the word “world” in that verse is abundantly clear by looking at what it means in the following verse where it is used three times.
      Finally, the reason that the “prayer of agreement” isn’t always answered in the way the “agreers” want is because that is not the meaning of this verse. That’s the same reason why other verses teach that God hears the prayer of one person praying in private—because this verse is not about a so-called “prayer of agreement.”

    • @Woober Goober

      Wow! You are the perfect example of a Christian who twists the Bible into saying whatever it is you want it to say.

      Here’s the full context From Matthew 18:

      18:15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

      18:16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.

      18:17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if he refuses to listen even to the assembly, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

      18:18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

      18:19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.

      18:20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

      Jesus, as does Paul and John, was referencing the laws of fairness in court that is found in the Torah:

      Numbers 35:30
      “‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

      Deuteronomy 17:6
      On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.

      Deuteronomy 19:15
      One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

      John 8:17
      In your own [torah] it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true.

      2 Corinthians 13:1
      This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

      1 Timothy 5:19
      Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

      Hebrews 10:28
      Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

      This couldn’t be more clear.

  3. Oh Brother Tim, what a blessing you are. I sincerely do NOT want to take your reward away, and hope I don’t, but what an awesome job. Praise God! I commend you on your patience, loving tone, apparent sincerity and your apparent respect/value of the Word. Amen.

    Just to add my holy spirit two cents. I really don’t know how anyone could confuse these verses to have ANYTHING to do with prayer. If there is any confusion to these verses all confusion is lost when following its direction of how it starts “Again I tell you…” If you were not clear, just look at the verses directly before. Yes that is context but additional context is that it was the beginning of the “church”, Jesus charged the disciples reveal the Kingdom of God, and that the Father would send the Holy Spirit for them to remember all things. In this case, (the losing and binding) its directing the disciples and what ever they pray (old English for ask) on is xyz an error or not, the answer to that question (pray) will be given by God.

    Follow up point/question if you would be so kind. I have heard these verses being used for two propositions 1) Catholics claiming the Pope is vicar of Christ and these verses are the “authority” for that; and 2) to give strength and/or credibility to group pray.

    I use to be a Catholic but….. I don’t want to speak ill (especially after your example of gentle communication) lets just say, I disagree and leave that one.

    However, on group prayer. This issue did come up in a Christian group several weeks ago. The issue being Matthew 6 – one group saying Matt 6 is clear “you pray in secrete” and the other group citing Matthew 18 “two or more …”.

    Is there anywhere in the bible that edifies the seemingly unambiguous words of matt 6?

    Any insights for our further Berean study on this issue would be greatly appreciated.

    God Bless

    Oh, PS – I know you were only trying to get others to understand; however (and this comment is for others/not you), commentaries, pastors, etc are “interesting’ and often provide some “help” and maybe insights on a direction for you to study and search the scripture but NEVER “follow” on commentaries or a certain commentator. Like citing .. “commentator x,y, z says _____” means anything, like its evidence of the truth. It is NOTHING but a man making a comment and proves NOTHING but might add as an insight for you to see if the Word says it. (I wish I could cap the period lol)

    • But since He does answer prayers your statement is not an option. Also, your statement isn’t even in the realm of possibility because if God did not exist then we would be in a materialistic universe, which would mean that logic would not and could not exist since it is immaterial. The same would be true for morality.

      • The three….do you believe we are three, for example me, myself and I? Do you feel we are contstantly trying to sink the three so we can succeed and so we can move foward and live harmoniously? If one of the three, wishes or makes a request for somethings but the other two doesn’t or won’t agree, or..doesn’t believe,.. will we ever accomplish anything? Would or Will God reward us if we half heartingly believe in him or in ourselves. Or do we have to be one with God to become God like ?…But we are all Gods aren’t we? But only if we become one with what we believe and what we expect with pure faith then nothing is impossible. That’s what I think was meant with “the two or three of you”. The father, the son and the Holy Spirit?… What are your thoughts on this?

        • Alberto,
          No, I do not believe we are three. Are we made up of three components, such as body, soul, and spirit? Perhaps. I believe we are definitely made up of the physical body and something immaterial, but I’m undecided whether the soul and spirit are two different components or part of the same immaterial. In theology, there is a debate whether we are dichotomous (two parts—body and soul/spirit) or trichotomous (three parts—body, soul, and spirit). I’m undecided between the two.
          Also, I do not believe we are all gods. Even if I have pure faith, I cannot create a universe from nothing. I cannot raise the dead, give sight to the blind, cleanse the leper, or restore hearing to the deaf. It doesn’t matter how pure my faith might be, I cannot do these things because I do not have those abilities. Is it possible that God would choose to use me to do some of these things (not create a universe)? Perhaps, although I doubt it. He did use the apostles to do some of these things.
          I don’t think this passage has anything to do with whether man is dichotomous or trichotomous, and I don’t think it is speaking about the Trinity. Jesus is very clear when He said that “if two of you” in reference to His followers. So the idea has to do with two or three believers agreeing about disciplining a professing believer for unrepentant sin.

  4. Thanks for all your text. I’m soo glad to read your text on this matter….
    But please I have questions to ask not on this topic really but other topic, if you can help me out…
    The questions is….
    1) where in the Bible that said ‘if one prayed alone chase 1000 demons and if two prayed together chase 10000 demons?
    2) where in the Bible that said ‘Folding of hands when praying is a taboo or you are tieing your destiny????
    I over heard my Pastor said that and Husband to My aunt also, keep on telling me what I could not see in the Bible….
    My Believe is; if you want me to know something new in Christ please bring Bible reference, due sign of coming of the son of man written in Matt24…
    Please help me out I search the scripture with all my little understand but couldn’t get such verse.

    • Hi Cy,
      Thanks for your questions. I hope my response will be helpful for you.
      Deuteronomy 32:30 asks, “How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had surrendered them?” So it seems like this is the place where you heard this wording, but the passage is not talking about demons here. The passage seems to be asking how a small force could have sent so many Israelites running…there’s no way that could happen unless Israel’s God had allowed it to happen. There were a couple of battles that the Israelites should have been able to win without much trouble, but they lost because they were not obeying the Lord. I don’t know of any passage that uses similar terminology referring to demons.
      Second, I don’t know of any place in Scripture that speaks of the folding of hands while praying as being taboo. There are two proverbs that use the phrase “folding of the hands” in a negative sense. But in both passages (Proverbs 6:10–11 and 24:33–34) it is talking about a person who sleeps too much (i.e. a lazy person). They both say the same thing: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep—so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.” I think the point of these passages is that a sluggard will bring poverty on himself through his own laziness. It isn’t about folding hands in prayer.
      I hope this helps.

  5. You said if two or three are gathered in his name and are in agreement concerning the disciplining of the offender that God will grant their requests. If that were true then why doesn’t God grant their requests? You even said few churches practise discipline in the way that was instructed by Jesus. Im confused.

    • John,
      Thanks for taking the time to respond to the post. The statements you cited don’t contradict each other, so I’m not quite sure what the cause for confusion is.
      How do you know that God doesn’t grant their requests? There have been plenty of situations where the erring brother repented and was restored to fellowship. However, I think the main point here is that when the situation reaches the stage where there are 2 or 3 witnesses and it has been made a matter of the church, the disciplinary decision made by the church has the backing or stamp of approval of Christ.
      Hope this helps.

  6. The bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15..Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
    Bro Tim…God bless ur work for HIM…
    There are even some songs of praise and worship we sing in churches that are not relevant for today
    It takes patience and humility to discover the truth of God’s word..(2 Cor 3:6.. Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life)..
    From ur exposition, u have only done ur best to open our eyes to a deeper relevance of God’s word(Matt 18:19-20)
    U re bless

  7. I suggest anyone who claim that matthew 18:20 cannot be used outside the context of church discipline read the commentary in “The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament). R.T. France” (ISBN 978-0802825018. p.697). to gain a more insightful understanding of the verse. This commentary is written by theologian and such commentary is widely respected by the Christian scholar community.

    • Bradley,
      Thanks for the recommendation. I don’t have access to that one at this time, but I’ll try to remember to check it out when I see it. I know I don’t agree with France on many issues in Matthew, particularly his views on the end times, but I’d like to see what he has to say on this passage. The commentaries I listed were also written by widely respected scholars, theologians, or pastors. As I’m sure you know, it isn’t about finding a commentary you agree with, which is what many Christians seem to do. They look for a commentary that says what they want it to say and ignore all others. I didn’t cherry-pick commentaries that taught my view, I just listed the ones that I had access to on my shelf or on my Bible software.
      Our goal must be to carefully study the passage to discover what it actually teaches rather than what we want it to teach.

      • The gist is there is no absolute right or wrong on this particular topic. There are people from both side of the camp on this topic. I did not say my interpretation is the absolute truth and you shouldn’t as well. Either interpretation did not perverse the core beliefs of Christianity. Such debate is a typical example of the story of different people touching different parts of an elephant and form their own narrow opinion of the shape of the object that they are touching.

        • Bradley,
          I strongly disagree with you that “there is no absolute right or wrong on this particular topic.” There most certainly is an absolute right way or wrong way to interpret this passage. The absolute right way to interpret this passage is to understand the words the way that Jesus intended and it would be an absolutely wrong way to interpret them in any other way. The real question is whether or not we have rightly understood the Lord’s words, and it is there that we need humility. I have not claimed to be absolutely right and I have not condemned anyone for disagreeing with me.
          I also disagree with your elephant analogy. While God’s Word goes deeper than we will ever dive, He is definitely capable of inspiring the biblical writers to communicate His message in a way that we can understand it. As such, we must strive to do our very best at interpreting Scripture properly. As I’ve mentioned many times in these comments. There is one right interpretation, but there may be many different ways to apply it.
          I do agree that neither of the two main interpretations of this passage pervert the core beliefs of Christianity.

          • I think the overwhelming majority of Christians would agree that there is no absolute right or wrong way to interpret every verse and passage in the Bible. This may sound wrong when we listen to it out of context. But the Bible is God’s living word. The Word inspires different people differently otherwise it is no more than a reference book. If we say that there is one and only one way that the Word should work then it is so absolutely wrong on so many levels. You say there is a right way to interpret the verses but from your post and comments, I can sense that you are saying more than that, you are saying YOUR way is the right way because you consistently reject other biblical interpretations. Christian fellowship is not a debating society but you are treating it as one. In my long life as a Christian, I have never seen a person won over to Christ in a theological debate, on the contrary it turned many away. I have seen many hardcore sinners turned to Christ because of the compassion and empathy shown by other Christians. We have too much self-righteousness and not enough compassion. As long as the interpretation does not contradict the core beliefs of Christianity, accept it as the mysterious power of how the Word can work in ways beyond our comprehension. The litmus test to whether to engage in such debate is do we want to win a debate for our own ego’s sake or do we want to win a soul for Christ.

          • Bradley,
            With all due respect, there are many problems with what you have written. It seems that you do not understand the distinction between interpretation and application. The Bible is not a book that we can tweak and twist the meaning to fit whatever context we want it to fit. It is God’s Word and must be handled with respect. Even if I’m right and there is one right interpretation (what the text means) and there are many applications (how it can be put into practice in each of our lives) it would not mean that it is nothing more than a reference book. And yes, there are definitely many absolutely wrong ways to interpret the Bible. It would absolutely be wrong for me to interpret “Love your neighbor as yourself” to mean “Jesus said that we should worship Satan.” Obviously, that’s an extreme example, but it makes my point: there is absolutely a wrong way to interpret Scripture.
            I didn’t say “there is one and only one way that the Word should work.” This is where you are confusing interpretation and application. I said that there is one right interpretation. But the way “the Word should work” (presumably in our lives) would be application, and I’ve said all along that there are many ways this might be done.
            Based on what you’ve written, you seem to have a postmodern way of looking at the text. It’s as if you think meaning is found in the mind of the reader, but it isn’t. It is found in the mind of the author. Therefore, our goal must be to figure out to the best of our ability what the author intended to communicate to us. Communication would be impossible if meaning is based on what the recipient wants. If that idea were true, then my response to your latest post would be, “I like pancakes too.” After all, if I get to interpret your words however I want to, then maybe you really were just telling me how much you enjoyed pancakes. Again, I realize that’s another extreme example, but I used it to make a point. I don’t get to twist your words to mean what I want them to mean. I should do my best to understand what you actually mean by the words you have written. Your elephant analogy in your last post had another serious problem. All of the guys in that little tale were wrong because none of them described the creature as an elephant.
            Furthermore, I wrote a post to challenge Christians to study the context of a passage so that they don’t use Scripture out of context. I have carried on multiple friendly discussions in my comments section with those who disagree. Yet you have come on here and tried to debate me on points while accusing me of trying to turn Christian fellowship into a debating society. Not only have you have attacked my motives, but you also attacked my character by claiming that I’m saying MY way is the right way. Never have I said that. Obviously, I think I am right in how I interpret these verses—otherwise, I would change my view. But the same can be said for those who disagree with me. They think they are right. If they didn’t, then they would change their view. So why am I the egotistical one in all of this? Couldn’t I just as easily say that you are claiming it’s all about YOUR way to interpret (and your way would be that there isn’t just one right way)? Why can’t Christians have friendly discussions/debates on issues without having their motives questioned?
            I would assume that the people who are commenting on this post are fellow believers, at least for the most part. So it isn’t fair to imply that I am trying to lead someone to Christ through theological debate. The way to lead someone to Christ is through the declaration of the gospel (death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), and we often need to earn the right to be heard through the way we treat those we are trying to reach.
            I agree with you that there is too much self-righteousness in the church and not enough compassion and empathy. There is too much bickering and arguing and not enough concern for living godly lives. But there is also far too much flippancy in our approach to Scripture and we must strive to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). That last statement is the goal of this blog post, and the others in the commonly misused Bible verses series that I’ve written here.
            Frankly, I don’t care if I win or lose a debate. I care whether I have properly interpreted Scripture, and if I have not, then I invite anyone to show me from Scripture (used in it proper context) where I have gotten off track. That is why I thanked you for the commentary recommendation and said I would take a look at it when I got a chance (which I might be able to later this week since I’ll be visiting a seminary that may have it). If I truly acted as you say that I do, then I should have written something like, “France is wrong because he disagrees with me.” If I get a chance to look at it later this week, then I will post a follow-up comment here with my thoughts about it. Until then, I won’t have time to respond since I’ll be on the road.
            [Update on 9/19/15: I was able to look at an older commentary on Matthew by RT France (The Tyndale NT Commentary from 1985). On page 276, he wrote, “No doubt the primary application is to their prayer for the sinner of vv. 15–17, but the principle of Jesus’ presence among his people, and therefore of the efficacy of their agreed request, can hardly be confined to that specific situation (even though, like other such promises in 17:20; Jn. 15:12–14; etc., it is not to be regarded as an automatic formula for success where prayers are agreed which are not compatible with the one in whose name they are uttered).”
            Prior to that he compared the Lord’s statement to Rabbinic teaching about the Shekinah glory being present when two are sitting together. So France does interpret this passage more broadly than I do, and more broadly than the other commentators that I cited. So although I don’t agree with him, he still recognizes that the primary application has to do with the erring brother.]

  8. Thanks Tim for the post. I was trying to explain this to the wife, and forgot exactly what that scripture meant. I recently started studying the word expositorly and its like a detective working a case, once you get started you can’t stop. The people kicking and fighting againist what the Word is saying is suffering from what the world is suffering from…..biblical illiterarance (sp) and that is an area we need to help correct. Keep up the good work, and may the Lord keep you…..(Ralph)

    • Hi Ralph,
      Thanks for the encouragement. I really appreciate it, and I’m glad to know that the post was helpful for you. I like your analogy about a detective working a case. Our goal must be to uncover what the text is really saying, using every tool at our disposal (language, history, culture, etc.). I think some of the people who have objected to this post confuse interpretation with application.
      God bless!

      • I have really enjoyed your commentaries and replies. I go to the only expository Bible teaching church on the island of Guam and I am so blessed by our Lord for leading us there to really really learn the word of God. And I am also blessed by the sharing of your commentaries. Please continue to do the work of the Lord. I am inspired. May God bless.

  9. Someone once pointed out to me I misused Matt 18:20 when I used it in my opening prayer for a meeting. I have heard/read many preachers/writers used this verse in the context that I used it in and it never occurred to me it cannot be used in such context. The reason the person told me is the same reason quoted by you. I therefore looked up the proper usage of this verse in many different credible Bible commentaries and they all permit the verse to be used in the context of a general gathering/service/meeting. I think you and people like you are being too narrow in your view.

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for taking the time to read the post and for your response. I don’t know that I’ve seen a commentary that states the passage has to do with general gatherings. I don’t doubt that they are out there, but that’s rather irrelevant. The point of my post isn’t to see how the passage can be applied, but to study what it actually teaches. If you want to expand the application of this passage to your general gatherings, I’m not going to tell you that you are sinning in doing that. I’ll simply repeat what I stated in the original post and in numerous follow-up comments. The context of this passage has to do with the reconciliation of a brother who had sinned against another.
      Will Jesus be present in your prayer meetings and general gatherings? If someone is a believer in those meetings then of course He will be there since He indwells every true believer. So there is not even a need to cite this verse in the way you have done it.

      • I am suprised that you have not seen commentaries that this verse can be applied to a wider context. There are many credible sources you can find. To list one of them – New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition. ISBN 9780851106489 Pg 928″. I did not see any credible and independent reference and sources that you have given to support your argument.

        • Hi John,

          I would cite the Bible first and foremost for my source. A basic exegesis of the passage will demonstrate that the context has to do with the discipline of the erring brother.
          Also, I didn’t say that I haven’t seen commentaries that mention this verse can be applied to a wider context. I stated that “I don’t know that I’ve seen a commentary that states the passage has to do with general gatherings.” The commentaries I’ve seen often state that the passage is misused, and others state that it is about disciplining the erring brother but may be applied in a broader context.
          Even though I believe the text is rather straightforward, it is helpful to see how scholars have viewed this passage. Let’s begin with the one you cited.

          Here is what the New Bible Commentary states regarding the verse in question:

          The idea that the church on earth may bring the authority of heaven to bear on their situation is continued in vs 19–20, where the continued presence of Jesus among his people ensures that their united prayer will be effective. In the context this refers primarily to prayer for the ‘brother who sins’, but the principle may also be applied more widely. It is not, of course, an automatic guarantee that any petition will be granted, but only such as are compatible with gathering in my name. (D. A. Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 928.)

          That sure sounds like what I’ve been saying all along. In context, “this refers primarily to prayer for the ‘brother who sins’,” but then they add that the principle may be applied more widely. That’s what I’ve been saying. The proper interpretation of this passage has to do with the erring brother, and I’ve said all along that we can draw principles from this passage and apply it. But to quote this passage out of context gives the wrong impression to those who hear it misused.
          If you would like another commentary that talks about it being misused, here is what Craig Blomberg had to say in the New American Commentary on Matthew:

          18:19–20 Sadly, these verses have often been taken out of context and misused. It ought to be obvious that God regularly does not fulfill a promise like that of v. 19 if it is interpreted as his response to any kind of request. In this context v. 19 simply restates the theme of v. 18. The word for any “thing” (pragma) is a term frequently limited to judicial matters. Here Jesus reiterates that actions of Christian discipline, following God’s guidelines, have his endorsement. This remains true even if they come from a very small fellowship, including but not limited to the “two or three” gathered in vv. 15–16. (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 280–281.)

          Here is the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary on the same verses:

          If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. The promises in 18:19–20 of answered prayer and God’s presence also refer to the solemn matter of the sinning brother. It is possible that the two who agree in 18:19 are two members of a three-member court that represents the community (m. Sanhedrin 1:1; Hagner 1995:533). During the discipline process, the church may be assured that their deliberations on earth will be confirmed by their Father in heaven and that Jesus is present with them throughout the difficulties. (David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), 240.)

          How about John MacArthur’s Commentary?

          This verse is also frequently misinterpreted, though not with such serious error as in the misinterpretations of the two previous verses. To use this statement to claim the Lord’s presence at a small worship service or prayer meeting does not fit the context of church discipline and is superfluous. Christ is always present with His people, even with a lone believer totally separated from fellow Christians by prison walls or by hundreds of miles. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 16–23 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988), 139.

          Here’s the Holman New Testament Commentary:

          18:19–20. These two verses are among the most misunderstood in the Bible. They are traditionally taken to mean that God pays special attention to the prayers of believers when two or more gather or agree together. But such an interpretation is wrong for two reasons: (1) it takes the statements out of the context of church discipline and the pursuit of the straying brother; and (2) the conclusions that it leads to regarding prayer is contrary to Scripture. (Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 294.)

          Three out of these four (not counting the one you cited) commentaries specifically mention how these verses are misused. All of these commentaries clearly state that the passage is about disciplining the brother who sinned. So it looks as though my post is very much in line with what scholars teach on the topic.
          I hope this helps.

          • Thank you for providing the reference. It would have helped if you had provided the reference in your original post to give credence to your point, as it is the standard practice in any serious writing. No doubt many text in the Bible have been used out of context. however, I think using this verse in the context of an opening prayer for a meeting is not wrong, which was what I was being told. I would agree if people used this verse to support the view that God is not with us when we are alone, or God always provide what we ask for when prayed with 2 or 3 people, then it is obviously wrong. From my understanding this line of explanation is what most of the commentaries that you have quoted presented and I agree with them. But the Bible and commentaries also did not specifically say such principle should not be used outside the context on Matt 18. I think we all ought to exercise wisdom and discernment instead of making sensational blanket conclusion.

          • John,
            It is actually not standard practice to provide references to commentaries in blog posts. If this were originally a research paper, then you would be sure to find plenty of documentation. I agree that we all must exercise wisdom and discernment instead of making sensational blanket conclusions. Are you accusing me of doing this?
            The wisest thing we can do is to stick with what the Bible states and to be very careful in how we interpret and apply it. We must remember to distinguish between our interpretation and our application. Like MacArthur stated, I think using this passage at the beginning of a general meeting is superfluous and gives those in attendance an inaccurate understanding of this passage.

  10. Hello,

    I realize you posted this article a few years ago now but I stumbled upon it in my search to a question. I help out with a youth group and one of the kids asked me about this verse… apparently both her and I have understood and heard this verse out of context because we were both confused about what it meant!

    I just wanted to say thank you for the clarity and now I can share with her an answer that actually makes sense! What a difference it makes when we understand the context of Scripture rather than twisting it to fit our own needs! (Though all of Scripture can fit our every need… just not always in the way we expect or want!) Thank you for the article and for your thoughtful & gentle responses to the additional comments.


    • Hi Mauri,
      Thank you for taking the time to read the article and comments and to leave your very kind response. I truly appreciate the encouragement, and I’m glad to know that my post was helpful for you. Also, thanks for your ministry in a youth group. I pray that the Lord will bless your efforts there.

  11. Some people would rather debate and prove that they are right, instead of seeking God and the Holy Spirit for guidance. We are never too old to learn, and instead of being curt or flippant, why not pray for one another so we all can gain correct wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

    Learn to not be so defensive, just because someone doesn’t think or believe as you do. We are all human, not one on this board is perfect. Non-believers are always watching for a believer to make the ultimate mistake and that is to not demonstrate love toward our brothers and sisters.

    Sometimes it’s better to refrain from speaking if the words will sting or bruise.

    God may be trying to tell you something and you are not listening, maybe you are interpreting the scriptures incorrectly but you are too busy trying to prove a point, you can’t and will not acknowledge your error.

    May our Heavenly Father bless us all!!

  12. I agree we need to explore the content and context of the Word.I don’t agree with your view or opinion on prayer agreement. My example of unity and answered prayer that too me shows the significance of agreement is the upperroom.They were in one accord.New Testament Church.Not this weak one here in America.

    • Hi Dave,
      I have nothing against people praying in agreement. Without trying to sound flippant, I think the more people that are praying for something, the better it will be, although there is still no guarantee that hundreds of people praying the same thing will bring about the desired result. Sometimes God answers with a “No.” Just ask parents who have lost children to horrible diseases like cancer.
      I’m glad you agree that we need to explore the content and context of Scripture, and I don’t mind that you disagree with me. These things happen in the church, and we need to show the world that we can disagree on things and still work together to make disciples. My main concern with your comment is that after you mentioned that we should look at the content and context of Scripture, you sought to find an example in a passage that is descriptive rather than prescriptive. What I mean by that is Acts is primarily a book of the history of the early church. It describes what did happen, but doesn’t necessarily prescribe what should always be done or what we should expect from God if we do the same things as the disciples. We can certainly try to follow their examples, but that doesn’t mean we need to start in Jerusalem, move out to Judea, then to Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It also doesn’t mean that we should expect the Holy Spirit to come with a mighty rushing wind and tongues of flame. Can we pray together? Absolutely. But the book of Acts doesn’t tell us that we should always expect the results we seek if we are praying in agreement. It does show us that God answered the prayer of the disciples in the upper room.
      Thanks for reading.

  13. Very interesting to say the least. I had always read it as Jesus telling everyone that you don’t have to be in a huge crowd or gathering to have Him there with you. Like a small bible study. I figured it went back to him telling us not to praise and pray out in public but to go and anoint our own heads and pray and ask in a closet. I always thought he was saying that no matter how small the group as long as you were gathered in his name for the right reasons he was present.

    • Hi Carol,
      I am right if I have accurately interpreted this passage. If I have not rightly interpreted it, then I am wrong. If you read some of the comments below you’ll see that Mark essentially asked the same question recently. Here is how I responded to him:

      I would agree with the majority of commentators who view verses 18–20 as a continuation of 15–17. Most Bibles that use section headings group all of these verses together too. There are reasons for this. The word translated as “Again” in verse 19 is the Greek word palin, and it indicates that He is repeating something He has just told them. Well, the “two or three” verbiage is also found in verse 16, so these two sets of verses are linked grammatically.
      They are also linked thematically. The word translated as “thing” (pragmatos) or “anything” (pantos pragmatos) in verse 19 is frequently reserved for legal matters, which of course would go right back to verses 15–17.
      I don’t believe I am being arrogant or conceited here. I am not bashing or ridiculing anyone who disagrees with me. I am simply encouraging people to take a closer look at the context of a passage before quoting it and applying it to situations that it probably was not intended for. As I mentioned in the post, I don’t disagree that God is present whenever two or three (or more) are gathered together, but I believe the context of this passage limits this discussion to disciplinary matters. Since most commentators that I’ve checked agree with me and some even talk about how these verses are misused, then I don’t think it is fair to ask what makes me correct and everybody else wrong.

      It isn’t about me being right and others being wrong. The goal of this post and the others in the Commonly Misused Bible Verses series is to encourage Christians to take a close look at the text rather than simply repeating what they have always heard. Is that a bad thing?

      • I agree with you Tim, we must read the entire scripture to receive understanding, we can’t just pick and choose certain scriptures that sounds good or makes us feel better about our sin.

      • Your post did make me take a closer look at the verses and i found your post wanting in both content and delivery. If you have written the post with the intention that you claimed to have written it with, the post would not be in its current form. It would have a different tone had it been written with pure good intention. I sensed ego, glee in seeing things people missed. And none of the fruits of the spirit.

  14. I totally agree with you. We should read the entire chapter to understand what each verse is talking about.

  15. Tim Chaffey, thank you for putting the verses Matthew 18:19-20 in context for me.

    I have a question on the last bit you wrote about prayer (1 John 5:14–15)and how He might have answered us but we don’t recognise it?
    I am really struggling with this because I have been praying about something for a long time now and sometimes I think He has answered and said yes, but then I wonder if it’s just me, wanting to hear a yes.
    How do I know I am praying according to His will? How do I know if there is a sin or disobedience that displeases Him and I have to repent from it before He answers me?
    How do I pray and ask The Lord and have Faith that He will give me what I ask, if I pray but wonder if it’s not His will, He will not answer?
    How do I know if I must keep praying and believing He will answer my prayer, He just needs to know I have the Faith to keep believing and keep praying? Because I have heard of prayers being answered after 6 years, or even 10 years, and we are not supposed to give up, for example Daniel’s prayer was answered on the first day but it took 21 days for the message to come to him.
    What if He has answered and said no, but I have not realised it and continue to pray about, and there really is no point if He has said no or it is not His will.
    Finally, through everything, through all my questions I know with all my being, that no matter what He answers me, I trust in Him, I love Him First, all my hope is in Him and whatever happens, He works all things to the good of those that love Him AND I truly feel deep down in my heart, in my spirit, I know that He will answer my prayer and reconcile and restore what the enemy came to destroy.

    • Hi Sumeiya,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a response. You have asked some great questions, and I’m not sure if there is a “one size fits all” answer to them. I think your final paragraph is really the key to all of this. No matter what the outcome of the situation(s) you are dealing with, trust God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. You may not understand why something is happening or why He allows it to continue, but He sees the end from the beginning, and He will work it out in the long run for your good.
      Jesus told parables of the persistent friend (Luke 11:5–10) and the persistent widow (Luke 18:1–8). While these seem to discuss different situations, there is a similar point: God is not upset with those who diligently call on Him. Unless the thing you are praying for is contrary to something spelled out in Scripture, then I believe God will make it very clear to you if His answer is “No.” Until that time comes, continue steadfastly in prayer, spend time daily in the Bible, and be sure to live according to His principles. If the matter can be shared with others, then ask them to pray along with you.
      Back in my early 20s (too long ago already) I kept praying for God’s guidance: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” I prayed that on a regular basis, and yet it seemed like He wasn’t going to answer it. Then I made the commitment to spend time every morning reading the Bible, praying for His guidance, and getting involved in ministry at my local church working with the youth. In less than three months, I knew exactly what He wanted me to do. Will your answer come that quickly? I can’t know that. But I do encourage people to commit their ways to the Lord, and I believe He will guide their steps (see Psalm 37:4–5).
      I hope this helps.

  16. You are way off base as the church did not exist at that time.It did not exist until Acts 2 Jesus had to purchase our right to have the spirit by his death burial; and resurrection.(John 7:39) It is a right to have church service! Why would he teach people Jews to be specific about church matters. I suspect you may be reformed and they love to rebuke people.

    • Manuel,
      I would agree with you that the church did not officially start until Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost. However, I am not the one who came up with the idea of using church in this passage. It’s there because that’s the term Jesus used according to Matthew’s Holy Spirit inspired text. Even if you want to say that this was originally for His Jewish followers, then why shouldn’t the same principles of reconciliation apply in the church? They seem like great procedures to follow. In Matthew’s Gospel, prior to chapter 16, Jesus seems to direct His teaching to the Jewish people, giving them a legitimate offer of the kingdom. The leaders, by and large, reject His offer, and beginning with chapter 16 (“I will build My church”) the focus shifts to His coming death, burial, and Resurrection and the building of the church.
      According to your logic, you must be Reformed, since you are rebuking me for my blog post that calls attention to what nearly every commentary says about this passage. If you would look at another one of my posts on commonly misused verses, you will clearly see whether or not I fall into the Reformed camp.

  17. I have been to four countries and ten states and have never seen a church willing to love his brother 70 X 7 in a day. Once I manged to get a two person meating which they called a mediation meeting it took some time but my brother rpented – but like Pharoah he soon took it back and began to slander me again. So i asked for another and they told me “YOu just need to change churches” ME? so a kid is bullied at school and the solution is to embolden the bully by changing schools? Doesn’t anyone care about the bully? Its not about me being wronged its about my friends soul is ill!

    I have been to foursquare, Calvary Chapel, Vinyard, Presbeterian, Baptist, Vinyard, Peticostel, Apostolic Penticostel and over and over God people use his tool of influence for evil and manipulation and Not for love. When asked to do it for love they say it is harsh, without grace, even legalistic.

    I once asked a lady if she could help me with a friend and she replied “you just want to be right!” No I want to know my mistake if any having you look at my blind spot in the presence of my friend but if you do not wish to help because you want to avoid judging then why did you JUST judge me unjustly?

    When my son asks his sister for help with their brother she NEVER replies “you just want to be right” she listend to both sides and helps them to reconcile.

    Someone tell me is there any out there???

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