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.

Tim's latest book is a practical apologetic on the Resurrection of Jesus. See www.midwestapologetics.org/shop for more details.

Tim’s latest book is a practical apologetic on the Resurrection of Jesus. See www.midwestapologetics.org/shop 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).


Comments

Commonly Misused Bible Verses: Matthew 18:19–20 — 92 Comments

  1. Finally someone who is willing to teach the Truth from these passages of Scripture. Alot of foolishness has come from misusing these verses. Im an ordained minister. I have been around the so called Word of Faith movement. I disagree on various things they teach but I do believe in the Power of God, healing, etc. Much of what goes on in alot of these Churches is definitely not Scriptural. Its silliness and the flesh. Today’s “tithing doctrine” is definitely unscriptural (but we won’t go there). I’m truly glad someone seen these verses the way I personally seen them in my studies. Amen

  2. I have heard the explanation that you have given on these verses before and I was not raised in the word of faith movement. And i disagree with them. Now for my point in the sermon on the mountain Jesus said” ask and it shall be given seek and you shall find knock and it shall be opened unto you”. He also said when you fast….when you pray .. and when you give. In Mark 11:22-26; Jesus says Therefore I say unto you what ever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them”. Now i fullt realize that God is not the big Santa Claus in the sky and he is not give me anything that causes me to sin or hurt me but since i have begain claiming these verses and fasting my life has changed. My income has more than doubled i have left one job and when to another and another always one right after the other with no wait time in between. While half the country cant find a job. My prayer partner has had over 50,000 dollars in debt forgiven. And i dont mean through debt consolidation. I mean totally forgiven. The type of debt that does not get forgiven.Totally erased. I now pray with a tablet next to me and when i need something or ask God something I write it down and date it. The answers i get are amazing. My point is i often pray Matt 18 together we also claim the other’s i have mentioned. I was raised a Independent fundamental Baptist. But i can testify that if you fast, give, forgive and pray believing. you can ask what you will and God will come through. If you fast like it means something to you it will mean something to God. My point is God shows up in a big way and answers prayer when we take him at his word.i do not believes this is name it and claim it.

  3. Hi Tim. I really enjoyed this post and follow up discussion and especially the wide use of scripture to establish accuracy of interpretation. Here is a question related to the Matt 18 approach to discipline/restoration – many Christians argue that the ONLY approach is one-to-one as per Matthew 18:15 but, how should you answer such a view in the case of (e.g.) abuse of an adult female Church member by an adult male Church member? Surely this is not a healthy situation for a one-to-one approach? Blessings, Chris

    • Hi Chris,
      I would agree with you that in such a situation it would not be wise to tell the abused woman that she needs to go to the man who abused her in a one-on-one confrontation. In this type of situation, the man clearly needs to be confronted, and depending on the nature of the abuse and the decisions of the abused person, the civil authorities may need to be brought in. I think you could still follow some of the general principles set out in Matthew 18, but rather than having the abused woman confront the one who abused her, you can have one of the church leaders (or maybe go right to the 2 or 3 if the situation seems that it may require extra people) confront the individual. Their side needs to be heard as well, since you can’t just go off of hearsay. This would be a little different than Matthew 18 since in this case you are also on a fact-finding mission—in Matthew 18, you know that someone has wronged you. Also, if the accusation is against an elder, there is the requirement to establish it by two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).
      There are so many variables that I cannot really list all the possible procedures, but I would just summarize my thoughts by reiterating that the goal of discipline is restoration to fellowship, and that we need to be wise in how we approach each and every situation.
      Thanks for your comments.

  4. God bless your soul Tim Chaffey. We live in a world where people will always criticize. We see such typical human behavior in the Holy Bible it self. So please continue to treat rude commenters with kindness as you have been doing. I’m a college student who came across this wonderful blog while looking for interpretations of our Lord’s words to achieve deeper insight. Thanks for taking the time to do such things. I’m catholic and have always strictly adhered to catholic teachings. I’ve always believed that the catholic church is the true church of God and the bride of Christ. However, i have on several occasions wondered about our fellow protestant brethren and their churches and questioned their authenticity. My parents taught my siblings and me that we are all one…Catholics, protestants, orthodox and all other followers of Christ because our Lord Jesus said “wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name i’m there.” I recently attended a baptist church out of curiosity and i truly felt that Jesus was with them. This is why i wanted to get more insight on this verse. I truly want the unrest between Christian sects to end. We are all followers of Christ and this verse is truly something powerful. Let us continue to strive to live according to the word of God. God bless you all.

    • Thank you for your kinds words. I pray that I may continue to respond to rude comments in a loving and gentle manner. As a non-Catholic, I do have serious concerns about Catholic doctrine since the RCC has added so much tradition to Scripture. I’ve met many Catholics who do not realize what the gospel is because of all the traditions. See 1 Corinthians 15:1–4 for Paul’s explanation of the good news. That’s not to say I don’t have concerns with other groups within Christendom, because there are many who lose sight of the truth.
      Let me encourage you to continue to search the Scriptures in every area to determine whether the things you hear or see line up with God’s Word—even if those things are from my blog, from your priest, from your parents, etc. God’s Word is the authority above all those sources.
      Thanks again for your kind words.

  5. I understand that the WOLF movement (word of faith) misapply this scripture as another “name it, claim it/ blab it, grab it” garbage but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. This teaching is often called, “the power of agreement” within religious dogma, however, that does not negate what Jesus was teaching.

    Since historical context is a point of the interpretation given in this particular blog discussion then I will add this: historically Jews understood the legality of two or three witnesses on earth in legal matters. They did not understand the spiritual context which is what Jesus was further expounding to them. Jesus often took physical principles and gave them spiritual applications so we could understand better.

    God does not intend for us to be alone in our walk with him. There is to be a unity of the faith–which is one of the spiritual applications of Matthew 18. In western thought man is upheld as the great individualist and individuality is seen as the highest ideal. This is not what biblical christianity teaches.

    Ephesians 4:4 There is ONE body, and ONE Spirit, even as ye are called in ONE hope of your calling; 5 ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, 6 ONE God and Father of ALL, who is above ALL, and through ALL, and in you ALL.

    Just as the disciples mistook what Jesus meant when referring to Leaven–he wasn’t speaking of bread,he was referring to the leaven of the Pharisees–do not take this particular verse and misapply what Jesus was saying. There is a legal earthly application and there is a spiritual application. Just as leaven rises in dough, leaven can also be that of false doctrines taught by religious men. (Matthew 16:5-12)

    God gives each a measure of faith–in proportion to the body of Christ Jesus. (Romans 12:3-6) When we all come together as one the body works perfectly. It’s like tying one hand behind your back when you need two to accomplish the task. Can you do the task with one hand, yes, however it will take longer and there are other pitfalls of being alone in such endeavors.

    Jesus told us this spiritual application so that our burdens will be light and our yoke easy. When you share a burden and you have the strength of others’ faith to add to your own you experience the wonderful unity in the body of Christ, you may actually feel (or spiritually perceive) God’s presence as He promised He would be in the midst of such a faith filled gathering, focused on God’s perfect will.

    If you and I add our faith together isn’t it stronger? If we ask anything in faith He will do it according to His will.
    And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

    Deuteronomy 32:30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up? (This is where the saying, “being shut up in prayer” comes from–we are shut up in a prayer closet coming before our Lord in faith asking for His will.)

    In conclusion, Jesus showed us the earthly example of agreement in the legal system so He could share the economy of Heaven that when we add our faith together we can move mountains.

    • Your revelation is correct. Jesus sent disciples two by two. After Jesus ascended. It was Peter and John. Paul and Bartholomew and so on. They were following scripture of two or more.

      • I think you meant Paul and Barnabas. There is no record of Paul traveling with Bartholomew. Yes, Jesus did send them out two by two during His ministry, and we do see the disciples going in groups of two or more in the book of Acts. Paul often traveled with more than just Silas or Barnabas. Mark joined him for a little while early on. Luke, Timothy, and Titus were with him at other times. This passage (Matthew 18:19–20) is not about how the disciples traveled.

  6. Hi Tim.

    I did not read through all the comments. I would like you to clarify something. My Christian foundation comes from a church that practices shunning. When you were spoken to by two elders, you were being advised and you were cool (for lack of a better word), but when there were 3 elders, it was a judicial committee and you were going to be disciplined, which could be led to being disfellowshipped (shunned). So then, is shunning a Biblical practice based on this Scripture?

    Now, in that same context I just described, the understanding is when gathered and someone prayed it meant exactly that His Holy Spirit was present, for any reason the gathering is for. It does not mean He isn’t present when there are less than 3 or more than three, it is just stating that in a gathering He is present. So, what I am getting at, are you saying this Scripture is not about prayer, but about an agreement in a discipline committee?

    thanks.

    • I guess it depends on what you mean by shunning. If you mean treating the person like they are dead to you, then no I don’t think this passage (or any other) teaches this. The goal of church discipline is always restoration. So even though Paul instructed the Corinthians to throw a sinful man out of the church (1 Cor. 5) and Jesus said to treat this person as a heathen and a tax collector, it doesn’t mean that you act as if they don’t exist. That’s not how you treat a heathen or tax collector. The point is that they need to miss out on the loving fellowship and other benefits of being part of a church body. This will hopefully drive them to repentance and restoration.

  7. Hi Tim: Thank you so much for speaking on the topic commonly misused bible verses. I too have been ignorant and have prayed and believed what I have heard others in Authority pray and use, but the bottom line is we all have have to go to the Word of God, and read the scriptures in context to what the entire passage is speaking about. Thank you for bringing it to our attention, so that we can correct our wrong understanding of the scripture verse.

  8. Sir, I think you are very wrong and need to read the book, “The Tongue A Creative Force” by Charles Capps. I read your opinion and think you are a nitwit.

    • Hi Aleta,

      Calling me a nitwit isn’t a very “positive” thing to say. It may surprise you to learn that I have read that book and found it to be very problematic. I do not believe that our spoken words can bind God from doing things in our lives as Capps promotes in his book. We are not more powerful than He is. He did not give us the power to create reality by our speech. He is God, and we are not.

      • Dear Brother Tim,

        I was going to use this scripture to encourage someone to join in prayer and have always believed that “two or more are gathered in His Name…” was meant to encourage people to pray together “of one mind and one Spirit”. It is also written, “one puts a thousand to flight, two puts TEN THOUSAND…” Now, I don’t want to impose MY “beliefs” on anyone here regarding these scriptures. In fact, The Word instructs us NOT to argue the scriptures. And this forum, unfortunately, has done just that. I only now want to ask you…Please, I’ve read what you say this scripture does NOT mean. But will you now state EXACTLY what you “believe” it DOES mean? I welcome your words of wisdom, but in the end, I rely on the Holy Spirit who teaches us. Thank you for your time.

        • I forgot to add, whenever people would ask me to join them “in agreement” in prayer for something..I always ask first, what are they praying for? If I don’t have peace about their request, I won’t join in. I have been criticized for this but I answered I will always pray simply for “God’s perfect will” over the matter. God promises to provide all of our NEEDS but not our desires. Ah yes, and there goes that scripture that He will “give us the desires of our heart”. Well, in my prayer time I received a different interpretation of that scripture. It doesn’t mean he will give us what WE desire…but rather, He will put His Godly desires IN us…ie: desire to witness, desire to pray, desire to help others, etc. I realize it may take a second for some to get that, but when I received that revelation I got excited. Now, you may disagree with me on this, but again, the “Holy Spirit will teach me”. Praise Jesus!

      • Tim you are write in some ways, but god does give us his power to use for his will. If people come together and pray about something like, healing cancer, or even bringing someone back to life, I believe it will happen if the people have faith, because it is never gods will, that any of his children should suffer or perish and praying and coming together on these things can work and will work with faith. I am not saying these things can not be accomplished with one person, or 500 people. If you haven’t read this book already, I think you should. “The power of identification with christ”

        • Hi John,
          The problem with what you said is that there are times when it is in God’s plan for us to suffer. In Acts 9:15–16, God told Ananias to go to Paul. Then God said that Paul was chosen to “bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” God often uses suffering to draw us closer to Him and to reach others. Also, when the Bible states, “God is not willing that any should perish” it is not talking about physical death. We know this because of the context. God is not willing that any should perish “but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Perishing is contrasted with repentance. God does not want anyone to be condemned to the lake of fire for eternity; He wants them to repent. However, many will refuse to repent and will be condemned.
          Also, God clearly told Adam that if he ate from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would surely die. Ever since then, people will die, no matter how much faith we have. Some of the most faithful people of all time (Noah, Job, Moses, Daniel, etc.) still faced death. That’s part of the broken world we live in. Can God bring someone back to life? Of course He can. Does He promise to do that if we have enough faith? Not at all.

    • All prosperity preachers teach that we can create, and that we have to allow God to intervene. Nothing could be more wrong. Psalm 115
      3 But our God is in heaven;
      He does whatever He pleases.

      Then you might say this only goes for heaven. Look at Psalm 135
      6 Whatever the Lord pleases He does,
      In heaven and in earth,
      In the seas and in all deep places.

      God does what He wants, at His time, for His reasons.

    • How sad that we cannot carry on a conversation without attacking the other person instead of attacking just agree to disagree and move on.

  9. I was just getting ready to post this as a reminder to my fellow Christians ( we have an online prayer group where people who are very ill, or whatever their need may be, notifies the Pastor’s site on Facebook and he passes it on to the prayer group)as I was looking up the verse online I ran across this article.I believe the Lord just intervened to save me from using it out of context.Thank-you and glory to our God !

    • I too had just gone on line for the reference Matt 18:20, also intending to use v.20 to encourage someone. My understanding of this verse, even in context, is that “when we gather, in His name (or identified as His), He is in our midst” I see this element of the verse as being true in all context of the Word. I also believe that by our Comforter, He is with the Christian alone or with other Believers

      • Hi Lauren,
        I certainly agree that Jesus is with the believer when he or she is alone or when he or she is with fellow believers. My concern is that too many people rip this verse from its context to make it say something that it doesn’t say. If we want to encourage fellow believers with the idea that God will be with them why not use passages like Matthew 28:20 or Philippians 4:9 or the many other passages that do teach God will be with us?

  10. I have and will always feel that the : If two or three meet in my name I will be in the midst of them” to mean we do not need concrete or wood or stone churches. I believers come to together in the name of Christ…that is their church, Jesus is with them. that is all that is needed. No pews, no relics, no collection plates…just belief.

    • Christian, I’m sure that many believers would agree with you that wherever Christians are gathered, there Christ will be too, and that we don’t need a building, pews, etc. However, that is not at all what this verse is teaching. The context just does not support such an interpretation. So I would urge you not to misuse this passage just because that’s what you want it to mean. We need to let Scripture transform our thinking, rather than allow our thinking to transform Scripture.

  11. I am grateful for this discussion. I have been taught in my church to always look at the context, history and the person who was speakinf and of course the audience. I do understand most of the text but I would like some help in understanding how verse 18 relates to it all. I have used this particular verse in my daily prayers and I don’t want to use it wrong even though I know God knows the intents of my heart. I use it to bind the hands of the enemy..(if you know what I mean) I don’t mean to sound unlearned and I rather not be bashed on here. I am here to learn. Tim if you could please help me.

  12. OoO So here we have the almighty Christian that command God to do this or that!? We are but dust and have no authority whatsoever. We can only do what is told us from our Father in heaven, and what is already bound and loosed there. We are but messengers and humble bond-slaves with absolutely no authority at all. The gospel has authority, not us. God`s Word has authority, not us. The Creator of all has authority, we never will have. And thanks God for that.

  13. Your analysis is slightly off. The context of these verses is “binding and loosing” on Earth and in Heaven. We see a good example of binding and loosing when Paul returns after his meeting in Jerusalem concerning the eating of things offered to idols. Although Paul emphatically disagrees with Jerusalem’s decision, he nevertheless binds the churches to it. Then we read later in Revelations that Jesus had a serious problem with individuals in one of the seven churches who were compelling others to eat things offered to idols – despite Paul’s premise that an idol is nothing. So binding and loosing really are in the hands of the church and are carried over into Heaven.

    • @John, I just bound God and put him in a bottle on my bookshelf.

      I don’t know who you are but I imagine someone trying to cast out demons every couple of hours, and binding and loosing powers, dancing around in the church and perhaps rolling around too, and all sorts of other foolishness.

      Am I right?

      Curious minds need to know.

  14. Came across this blog post while doing some scripture research. Just wanted to thank you for sharing your interpretation. I agree with your view after reading many other commentaries and looking up the greek words myself. Thanks for handling the other comments to this post with grace and love even if some of your readers didn’t do the same. It saddens me that professing Christians can claim to have the love of Christ in them, yet publicly bash a fellow believer who is trying to shed light on scripture. Disagreements happen, and at the end of the day, everyone has their right to believe what they want, with God being the ultimate judge at the very end. You did a great job with all that was said in response. So be encouraged brother. Keep posting.

    • Hi Dave,
      Thanks for the kind and encouraging words. I truly appreciate them. I do hope that more Christians will learn to handle disagreements with grace. I understand being passionate about one’s beliefs and thinking that those who disagree are mishandling God’s Word, but since God is patient and gracious with us, then how can we not act the same toward others? God bless!

  15. The main issue for most people here with the “old” view is that they imagine God is “more” there when we are two and three, instead of one. This is the reason most hold unto this verse as a “prayer-verse”, and not as it is meant to, a church discipline verse.

    • Hello, I stumbled across this while investigating my own confusion where not only the bible but jesus himself seems to contradict himself as he tells us to pray alone in another verse. So this article would explain that contradiction if it were true. I haven’t scoured the whole bible for the answer to this question but could anyone correct me if I’m wrong from jesus’s words or old testament. As I’m not sold on Paul and believe that if we needs to know something jesus would have said it Paul can just reemphasize what has already been said IMHO.

      • Hi Peta,
        If you look at the contexts in which Jesus spoke about these prayers, you’ll notice that He isn’t contradicting Himself at all. When He talked about praying privately He was speaking of that in contrast with those who made long and loud prayers to be noticed by others. The point of prayer is to communicate with our Creator. We can praise Him and take all of our cares and concerns to Him. It isn’t so that we have an opportunity to show off how “spiritual” we think we are by belting out great sounding prayers. This doesn’t forbid public prayer or group prayer. He was helping people understand that they need to have the right attitude in prayer. It’s great when 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5 or more) believers come together to pray to our heavenly Father. We just need to be sure to do it with the right heart.

  16. Thank you for the article Tim. Though you provided very detailed answers, I find myself still quite confused as to why Jesus chose the words he did in versus 19 and 20. I can see the context from versus 15-17 as it relates to Duet 19:15, and how it would relate to binding and loosening given that it’s Gods command so of course he agrees with it. However, the “concept” of gathering together (two or three)in His name to bring about a decision, seems to leave for another context, namely petitioning the Father in Jesus name and having those petitions answered. If truly in Jesus’s name (and all that His name is)it seems to follow that those requests would therefore be the will of the Father – having little to do with dealing with sin in the church. If I’m way off here please correct my misunderstanding. I hope I worded that coherently. Thank you for your answer.

    • Wow, stumbled on this by accident and read all the comments.
      Two words used in “almost” all post are “I THINK”
      “I THINK”
      When we as Christians read God’s Word, each person will have a different opinion of a particular chapter or verse.
      I also was brough up with the Scripture where 2 or 3 are gathered in his name….
      I do believe that HE will answer our prayers…but, we all have to remember, we may not get the answer WE WANT from God for our prayers. The more believing Christians praying together for a particular answer, WE ALL KNOW, YES, the prayer will be answered…however, the prayer will be answered as ‘GOD’S WILL’ …
      Please do not contact me as I disagree with your analysis of these verses. And if you have the HOLY SPIRIT within YOU, you would not be saying “I THINK”

      • Jan,
        Actually, out of all the comments, the words “I think” appear seven times and zero times in the actual post. While I agree with some of what you said, there is a real problem in that you are simply telling us what you think while criticizing others (and me) for expressing what they (and I) think.
        It’s true that we need to rely on Scripture since it is God’s Word, but I’d like to know how we are supposed to understand what it says if we aren’t allowed to think. I agree that there is too much of “I think” or “I feel” or “this is how I’ve been taught” or “I’ve always thought this way” instead of simply paying attention to the words of Scripture in their proper context. And when we do that, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is not using this to say that you can have a church service because two or three are gathered, or God will hear (and answer) your prayer because two or three are gathered. Yes, you can hold a service, and yes God can/will hear the prayer of believers gathered together, but that is not the point of these verses.
        By the way, in verse 19, Jesus said that what these believers ask for will be given to them. Since we know that God sometimes does not answer our prayers in the way we expect or would like, but since Jesus said that what is asked here will be given, then He obviously isn’t applying this to every prayer situation.
        Thanks for reading.

  17. Tim, I just want to thank you for giving me a better understanding. I read this scripture in three different bibles and understand and agree now that this particular text is regarding correcting a fellow believer when they have sinned against you. If we begin at the beginning Matthew 18:15 and continue to read it through to vs 19-20 this where 2 or 3 are gathered is speaking to this specific situtation. I have been guilty of just quoting the last two verses and not reading all of the text because it has been quoted to me in that way. God answers prayers and is in the midst of us individually, never-the-less, this is a specific time/situation that is being spoke upon. I understand now and will say, you have to read the Word for yourself and then once you get knowledge get understanding.

  18. I believe that sometimes people try to get to complex with scripture. In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus is referring to the prayer of agreement among believers. Two or three, five or six it does not matter. Remember if one can put 1000 to flight, two put 10,000 to flight. Take scripture for what it says. Just like the scripture on forgiveness. The disciples asked Jesus how many time should we forgive and Jesus said 70 *7 in which Jesus was implying an infinte amount of times. The Bible cleary states that 2 are better than one.

    • Harold:
      I understand and appreciate your concern that sometimes when Scripture seems to be so straightforward, people can, for various motives, make it more complex than it was meant to be. Jesus came to give a message that was simple enough to transform even the most common and uneducated of men, after all…so why would He make His truth obscure? I would like to point out, however, that sometimes, what would have been very simple and straightforward for the original hearers of Jesus message, has the capacity to become muddled and more complex to us modern readers because we are separated from that time and culture by over two thousand years. Sometimes we are missing a critical frame of reference that makes a big difference in how we understand a passage. In this case, “two or three witnesses” was what was required in Jewish law to establish a testimony as true. So in this verse, Jesus is referencing a system of Jewish understanding and legal tradition that He and his disciples would have been very familiar with. What he is actually promising is this: “Hey, when you have to do this really difficult thing of testifying against a brother who has sinned against you, for purposes of church discipline, I am present in that situation with you.” It’s really a wonderful promise, if you think of it. And acknowledging it in no way negates the truth that you are concerned with defending: the increased power of believers operating together in fellowship and unity. There are plenty of other Scriptures in the Bible to support and encourage the unity of the saints…and this is indeed one of them…it’s just that it’s focus and intent is specifically on church discipline.

      • Amen Sarah. That was well stated. It’s often hard for us to see biblical passages through the eyes of the original audience when we’ve so often been conditioned to see it through the lens of the modern church.

  19. Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” It’s a great idea to seek wise counsel from mature believers and to join in prayer with them. As believers we have to pray before reading the word of God for us to aquire understanding and discernment by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.. Thanks for the enlightenment Tim.. God Bless u and all the readers of this blog.

  20. Interesting topic, and yes I believe in context. In this area I would hesitate, two or three folks coming together to pray about something in their lives, quoting and believing God in Math. 18:19,20. I guess I would hesitate to walk over and tell them they were getting it all wrong and out of context because the scripture is referring to discipline in the church. And they need to get lined out and pray something like the Lord’s prayer, no offense intended. You know what I mean?

  21. I really enjoyed reading this. I too have heard this used many times in my church. Actually, I was looking up this scripture, because I couldn’t remember exactly where it was in the NT, and I ran across your verse. I must say, I’m a little sad after reading it, because I was leaning on this scripture for the coming weekend. We are going to see eddie james (awesome music and youth leader) and although my husband loves the lord, I’m praying God will speak to him, and change him. I guess I can find comfort in knowing its Gods will for all to serve him. I agree with most of what you said, however I also believe that it is a living word. I have read the same scripture many times and have it mean something diferent each time. But I agree on reading the scripture in its entirityand not just picking a choosing. Thanks for this. God bless!

    • As someone “in search of” Christianity, I appreciate all of the comments posted on this page. It is challenging for a person in search of the true glory of God to discern between those who desire to share the love of Christ, and those who may decieve, (intentionally or not). I try to use the fruit of the spirit during my search for Christianity as an “identifyer” to help me filter what to follow and it truly does help me see more clearly. These kinds of discussions are healthy and meaningful to me. Ultimately, all I really know is my own experience. My experience is that the closer I am to God through two-way honest prayer, followed by actions of love to my brother, neighbor and enemy, then things of the world don’t really matter a whole lot to me. During those times, I don’t find myself asking for a lot of selfish temporary things. My heart seems more occupied yearning for those that I love to discover the kinds of things that I’ve discovered throughout my search…and I find my heart breaking for those I love who are missing out on the kind of love God offers. Unfortunately, I get the love thing wrong at times and I need a little forgiveness. To clarify a point I made earlier. I believe whole-heartedly that I am saved by the grace of Jesus’ death and ressurection, and am fortunate enough to spend eternity in heaven. I just feel like I’m still on a search to understand Christianity and I haven’t come to the end of that journey just yet. I have a lot to learn, but I believe I “get it” a little more each day, (partially due to posts like these). My challenge to everyone who has questions regarding what God will and won’t give you, and any “conditions” to your request(s), is to pray for things that will pass through the fire, not wood, hay or stubble…(stuff). Oh, and also act on those prayers.

      Thank you and please continue the journey. Somewhere down the road, I’m sure I’ll see you. :)

  22. Jesus said that whenever 2 or 3 gather in his name, he will be with us. I have also seen this verse used in the “context” as an excuse for the Christian fellowship to remain small and insular – and without a vision to share the good news with others.
    Equally true of this verse is that whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, (or in anybody’s name) there will be conflict. Conflicting views have been voiced in this discussion, which is healthy and a process of discerning God’s will, forgiveness, grace and hope in the “context” in our own spiritual journeys. The key though is to always respect each other with acceptance and love.

    • Hi Graham,
      Using this verse as an excuse to remain small would definitely be an abuse of what Jesus was saying. I also agree that there will be disagreement on certain points among believers and that we need treat one another with gentleness and respect. We’ll be together for a very long time (eternity), so we might as well learn how to love one another. Thanks!

      • “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst”. That IS referring to Worship. If you/ someone is sick, or maybe there is no place of Worship in your area ( Church of Christ) then you can hold Service in your home/ woods/ building/ tent etc. and commune every first day of the week. That is what that scripture is referring to.

        • Aleta,
          Thanks for reading the post, but frankly, your comment shows that you really do not understand the context of these verses. You can’t just yank a verse from it’s context and make it apply to whatever situation you want. That is not a proper way to rightly divide the word of truth. That’s twisting it and making it say what you want it to say, which really is the opposite of respecting it. Should we try that with other Bible verses? How about Luke 9:3? Does that mean that anytime a Christian wants to go on a trip that we shouldn’t take any food, money, or extra clothes? Of course not, but that’s what we should conclude if we are going to use the hermeneutic you suggested.
          Also, I am quite familiar with the Church of Christ movement (I grew up in it and graduated from one of their Bible colleges), and I have a bunch of great friends in those churches, but it is not one that I can be a part of since I have a few serious doctrinal disagreements with them.

    • God is not an without of confusion…. I personally do not see how you can justify this scripture to what Jesus was referring to now and say that’s the only meaning or translation of this text. When we have the present of The Holy Spirit with us at all times that will direct us and lead to a word that will speak life to our situations now. I beg to disagree and don’t understand why you think you point is more valid than any other. During my court trial, The Holy Spirit directed me to a scripture in a vision 1chro 19. This talks about the ammonites and Syrians defeated…. But the Holy Spirit was talking about my court case and reassuring me along the process what I had already been told from the get go that the victory is mine. So let’s be very careful when we say that Christians misuse this text. How can you compare yourself to the Holy Spirit who is The Revealer of ALL Things. Lets Be Wise…. God is NOT an author of confusion. Lets stop limiting The Holy Spirit by reading the bible as if it was a book

      • Faith, how do you know that the Holy Spirit spoke to you during that time? How do you know when it is okay to change the meaning of a passage by personalizing it to your own situation? My point in this article, and in the rest of the series, is not specifically about how one applies the passage, but about the meaning of a given passage. I’m focusing on the interpretation of the verse, which leads to proper application.
        I am not comparing myself to the Holy Spirit. I am doing my best to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) rather than changing the meaning to make it fit whatever context I want it to. When/if someone shows me that I’ve interpreted incorrectly, then I need to change my view.

  23. Greetings Tim Chaffey,
    I am sure you are a well-meaning Christian, but your assertion that Matthew 18:20 is misused is erroneous, as well as your assertion that Jesus is in us. The Holy Spirit Dwells in us, Please see John 14 in full context provided below.

    You assertion that Matthew 18:20 is misused by Christians, requires the reader to erroneously combine two distinct thought processes into one: Discipline and Prayer. The discipline process is covered by Matthew 18:15-18. Matthew 18:19-20 REINFORCES AND EXPANDS THE SCOPE OF Matthew 18:15-18 to include the number of witnesses necessary for Jesus to be present in ALL prayer.

    We must look at the scripture in its entire context; and we cannot ignore the significance of the word “ANYTHING” that is used in Matthew 18:19; but which is not used in Matthew 18:15-16. We also cannot ignore the fact that Matthew 18:19-20 begins in a new paragraph. New paragraphs, in the English language are used when you start a new topic, skip to a new time, skip to a new place, or a new person speaks. In this instance there is a scope change from a specific scenario (when a brother refuses correction ) to all scenarios (ANYTHING, that two or three witnesses ask for.) The use of the word “Anything” in Matthew 18:19 denotes an increase in scope from a specific scenario to ANY scenario.
    Your logic is illogical also, because if Matthew 18:19-20 means the exact same thing as Matthew 18: 15-16 as you imply, then there would be no need for Matthew 18:19-20 to have ever been written, since according to you it simply regurgitates, and is not adding any new meaning to what was said in Matthew 18:15-16; but the word ‘ANYTHING’ is not used in Matthew 18:15-16. Let’s look at the discipline and prayer scripture in its entirety..
    15 “If your brother sins[k], go and [l]show him his fault [m]in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 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 [n]FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 If 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 [o]a Gentile and [p]a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you [q]bind on earth [r]shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you [s]loose on earth [t]shall have been loosed in heaven.
    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 [u]by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
    DO YOU KNOW SEE YOUR ERRORS. IF NOT YOUR ERRORS MAY BECOME CLEAR WHEN YOU READ MY ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS WHICH ARE IN ALL CAPS.
    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?
    NO
    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?
    IT APPLIES THE SAME SINCE (TWO OR THREE) IS A SUBSET OF (FOUR OR MORE). See any Algebra book for rules on sets and subsets.

    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?
    NO, JESUS IS NOT PRESENT IN EVERY INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER; THE HOLY SPIRIT IS PRESENT IN EVERY BELIEVER.
    In John 14; Jesus says He is leaving, but not leaving us as orphans that God will send another Helper, the Holy Spirit to dwell in each individual.
    John 14
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    The Way, the Truth, and the Life
    14 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions;[a] if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
    5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
    6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
    The Father Revealed
    7 “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
    8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
    9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
    The Answered Prayer
    12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask[c] anything in My name, I will do it.
    Jesus Promises Another Helper
    15 “If you love Me, keep[d] My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
    Indwelling of the Father and the Son
    19 “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. 20 At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. 21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
    22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”
    23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.
    The Gift of His Peace
    25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said,[e] ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.
    29 “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. 31 But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.

    So even if one Christian prays, isn’t Jesus already there?
    NO SEE JOHN 14 IN FULL CONTEXT ABOVE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR ERROR.

    • Dee,
      Thank you for taking the time to write. I believe you also have sincere intentions, although you made a lot of accusations and came across as quite smug (perhaps unintentionally). But I disagree with you on several points.
      First, yes, the Holy Spirit dwells in believers. I did not deny that since the Bible is very clear on that point. We agree there. However, Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (emphasis added). So not only does Christ live in us, He is also the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, so of course He is present when any believer prays. Remember, He also promised His disciples at the very end of Matthew that He would be with them always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
      Second, you claim that it would be pointless for Matthew to write verse 19 and 20 if they were just repeating the same idea as the previous verses. Perhaps the next time you read through Scripture, you should pay attention to the number of times an idea is repeated multiple times. Is Galatians 1:9 pointless since it repeats the teaching of Galatians 1:8? Also, what are the first five words of Matthew 18:19? “Again, I say to you.” Again? That means He must have said it to them before—and He did, in the verses right before that.
      Third, I’ve already dealt with the “anything” in a previous response so there is no need to rehash it here, only to point out the absurdity of believing that Jesus was really telling the disciples that He would given them “anything” they agreed upon. It would help readers to know that the word for “thing” in “anything” is the Greek word pragma, and it was frequently reserved for judicial matters, which perfectly fits the context of discipline.

      • A request, brought with love, from a mindful heart. Please prayerfully consider the following….

        You are a believer in this congregation that lives “right” for the Lord. Your best friend is the one in this scenario who is in error. You follow the proper steps. Go to him in private, bring witnesses to him, bring him before the congregation…. none of these steps have changed his mind…he cannot see his error… he must be disciplined.

        Take a moment… imagine yourself in the moment… standing in the church… with fellow believers who are living “right”… all have come together with a singular purpose on this day… to lovingly show this man, your best friend, the error of his way and he just cannot see it. You, the church, are left no choice … he must be disciplined. Knowing what is going to happen next, how would you feel in this moment? You take a moment from standing there looking at your best friend and look at the rest of the congregation, fellow believers with a heart for the Lord. Can you see they are as heartbroken as you? You look back at your best friend, your own heart breaking because you couldn’t get him to see his error. Can you feel it? That feeling of wanting something “right” for someone so heartfelt that you have done everything you could have possibly done and it did not work. Can you put yourself in this moment and feel it?
        It is in this moment… that Jesus says…in this moment…where two or three of you agree on earth about anything that you all may ask, it shall be done for you by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered in my name, I am there in their midst. He is letting you and the rest of the congregation know… you all have not done everything…you all have not failed this man, your best friend. I not only see your heart breaks for your friend, you are not alone in this, I am right here with you….and not only am I here with you all, you only have to agree on something, anything, in this heartbreaking moment…that this man, your best friend, would see the error of his ways…and it shall be done.

      • Not that you need any help, Tim, for your doing a fine job as it is. As for Matthew 18:20, I completely agree, and have studied this particular misuse of scripture as well. Although, it doesn’t negate corporate, or iteressory prayer. Jesus also says that He is in us as you rightly said. John 17:21-23 …that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22″The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;

        23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.…

  24. But there’s the word “anything”. I think it might have more to do with “in My name”. Maybe in our hearts, we should want the answered prayer to glorify God, as much as help the recipient of the prayer or experience the answer ourselves. As for two or three, this would be for clearer discernment on the “anything”.

    • Hi Tammy,
      Thanks for your thoughts on this. I would agree that the two or three idea is to help with discernment (especially since this passage has to do with discipline). But I think that is helpful in any situation. It’s a great idea to seek wise counsel from mature believers and to join in prayer with them. But “anything” here does not mean any possible thing that you might agree to pray for. It does have more to do with “in My name” which shows that one is praying in accordance to God’s will.
      Even words like “anything,” “every,” or “all,” are defined by their contexts. In the next chapter during the discussion about the rich young ruler, Jesus responds to the disciples’ question about who can be saved by saying, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). This clearly does not mean that God can do anything, no matter what it is. He can do all things that are possible, but it is impossible for Him to lie (Titus 1:2), and it was impossible for Jesus to remain in the grave (Acts 2:24). In the context, Jesus was saying that men cannot save themselves through their ability to keep the law, but God is able to save anyone. So in the passage about two or three, the “anything” must still be limited by the context (probably praying “in My name” as you pointed out).
      We use these words “all the time.” Actually, it isn’t “all the time” in a literal sense, otherwise we would be using nothing but those words, but in a figurative sense, meaning that we do it a lot. That’s why it is so important to understand the context of a passage. Thanks!

  25. It is good to see someone else have this view on Matthew. I always heard only the version that somehow Christ was stronger present, and more willing to hear prayers if we were more people. MacArthur`s Study Bible was the first one to present another way of understanding this, for me. Still it took a while since no one else seems to agree on this. After reading your comment I am much more sure. My wife is not there yet, but for her it is new. Thank you so much.

  26. If you spent as much time and effort promoting the most commonly LOOKED OVER verses of the bible as you did trying to discredit the ones you are,…then maybe you would spark some positive reaction.

    • I’m curious e0, why would you come on here and anonymously (unless your name really is e0) make false accusations against me? I did not discredit this verse, or any of the others as you allege. If you read this post carefully, you’ll see that I am trying to direct people to understand the Bible properly rather than yanking verses out of their context to make it say what it doesn’t say. If you are doing this, then you are actually the one discrediting the Bible. You would be misusing the Scripture and implying that what it does say and how one should properly apply it are not good enough for you. My goal is not to “spark some positive reaction” but to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). It’s a sad testimony for the church that so many Christians would get upset about being corrected when they rip verses out of context.
      If you can show me how I discredited this verse or any other, I will gladly make the corrections to this post, or pull it down and write a new one acknowledging my errors.

  27. What about John 14:13-14 and 16:23?

    Don’t they seem to promise that a believer will receive whatever he asks for in the name of Christ?

    What do they mean?

  28. Since my last post I’ve done some more research and realise that binding and loosing does not refer to excommunicating or reinstating someone in the church. I understand that it means declaring something to be lawful or unlawful, which obviously is something which God has already said is lawful or unlawful. But I cannot fathom what these 2 Christians of verse 19 are asking the Father. They already know that the unrepentant offender must be put out after 3 admonitions, so they wouldn’t be asking Father to put them out of fellowship. Father has given that responsibility to the church.

  29. I do not understand then… and no one seems to be able to answer.. I have a dear friend that has been battling Lung and brain cancer for 2 years – people have been praying for her all over the country for her and now just got word it has spread to her bones.. Dr have left no hope.. Does God listen at all ?

    • Hi Denise, I’m sorry to hear about your friend. God does hear the prayers of His people, but He is not obligated to answer them the way we want Him to. There are times when He does heal miraculously, and there are times people are able to be cured through medicine, but there are other times where He chooses not to heal. We may want to know why this is the case, but God is not obligated to tell us. He’s God and we’re not. Even His faithful servant Job, who suffered terrible loss, didn’t have a right to demand an answer from God. The truth is that we are all sinful and deserve His wrath, but thankfully, He sent His Son to die in our place on the Cross. We will still face death, but believers do not need to fear it, because Christ has paid our debt, and we will immediately be ushered into God’s presence and never suffer again.
      There are times when it may seem like He is far away, but James 4:8 tells us when we draw near to God He will draw near to us. As someone who has gone through a cancer battle, I can sympathize to some degree. I had a few close calls during my battle, but I was ready to go home to be with the Lord too, so I had peace. I didn’t want leukemia, and I don’t want it to come back, but I wouldn’t trade it. Even when He doesn’t choose to heal, God can give peace and comfort in the toughest of situations. Remember, He created a perfect world with no death, disease, or suffering, but it was our sin that brought all of that into this world. So when tragedy strikes, we need to remember that ultimately it is our fault and not God’s. I hope this helps. Keep praying for your friend and drawing near to God. He will always be faithful.

      • Tim . . . as a physician for over 20-years with primary focus on breast cancer, the use of the word HEAL in your post above caught my attention. I believe (hopefully I am not placing words in your mouth) the word you ment to use, given the context, was CURE. I believe, with experience as my mentor, there is a significant difference in curing a patient and helping a patient heal. There are patients that we, as physicians, cure that we may never help heal. Yet, I have seen many a patient not cured of their disease but were healed. Unfortunately within Western Medicine, many physicians do not come to understand nor appreciate the difference between cure and healing. When cure is defined within the physical/physiologic and healing is defined within the spirit/non-physical, then the use of these terms are different.

        Hope this information is helpful. (rich in lacrosse, wi)

      • I do not agree with you that it is our sin that bought all of that into this world. It was Adam and Eve sin, they cause us to suffer. I do not understand your explanation of Matt.18 v 19-20. I am struggling here.

        • Hi Jackie, I agree with you that it was Adam’s sin that brought death and the Curse. When I said “our sin” it was in reference to the sin of human beings rather than a mistake on God’s part. Although I would add that there is still much suffering in this world that is caused by the sins we have personally committed. We can’t blame it all on Adam.
          I’m not sure what you are struggling with in regards to my explanation of Matthew 18:19–20. Can you specify what it is that you want me to clarify? Basically, what I am saying is that these verses are often misused by people who think that whenever you have 2 or 3 (or more) believers together, then they can have a prayer meeting or church service because Jesus is in their midst. But that isn’t the context of the passage. The context has to do with church discipline and very few seem to recognize that. Of course, Jesus is present when 2 or 3 are gathered, but He’s also there when a believer is by himself or herself, so this is hardly profound. In this passage, Jesus is specifically talking about church discipline and how to properly correct a brother who has sinned against someone else. The goal is repentance and restoration, not condemnation, gossip, and ridicule (as is too often the case).

  30. Hello Tim,

    Hope you have time to answer my query. I agree with your conclusions about the meaning of Matthew 18:19, however, I still don’t understand why two Christians need to pray to God to ask something about this matter of church discipline when Jesus has already said that they have delegated authority from Him to excommunicate (bind) or reinstate (loose) the Christian who is living in wilful unrepenant sin. What is it that these two Christians are actually asking God? Are they asking God to discipline or forgive the offender; but wouldn’t God do that any way as part of His relationship with the offender? I’m assured that these verses are about church discipline, but I can’t fathom what it is that the two Christians are agreeing about. I understand that it is in connection with church discipline, but why are they asking God to do something when God has told the church to do it – i.e. to excommunicate or forgive and reinstate the offender. Also, if it is the church which ultimately puts the unrepentant offender out of fellowship, then why are only two Christians involved in asking God for something? Why isn’t the whole church involved? Any extra light you could shed would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Marisa,
      I think the prayer in this passage is that they are seeking God’s guidance in all things. Church discipline is a very difficult thing to do for several reasons. We want to forgive since God has forgiven us, and we want to be gracious, but when a brother or sister is continuing in unrepentant sin, then for the sake of the purity of the church body, discipline must be carried out. There are many things to pray about when it comes to church discipline. You want to pray for the wisdom that you are making the right decision to eject the unrepentant sinner, that the congregation will understand the reason for and necessity of the discipline, and that the sinner will repent of his mistakes and be restored to full fellowship.
      As for why it is 2 or 3 instead of the whole church, it seems that issues like these are not left for some sort of majority vote since that is not the way God designed the church to function. Each congregation should have godly leaders who meet the qualifications for elders described in 1 Timothy 3. They are responsible for handling situations like these. The hope would be that the sinner would repent at the first stage (the one on one confrontation). If that doesn’t work, then hopefully they will repent when the matter is brought before 2 or 3 church leaders (at this point, there is likely not a reason to make it public for the whole church to know about–especially if the person repents). But if he/she refuses, then it is made known to the congregation.
      I hope this helps.

  31. With all do respect Tim I think what you fail to realize is that the scripture says that if 2 or 3 agree on earth as touching ANYTHING THAT THEY SHALL ASK not limited to just kicking people out of the church. If Jesus just meant 2 0r 3 gathering for one specific purpose he would have said that…but he says ANYTHING….verse 18 says WHATSOEVER YE BIND again not limited to just one specific thing….Also when verse 20 says 2 or 3 gathered in my name. He is saying i will be in the mist of THEM meaning that he will be in the MIDDLE of your Prayer and fellowship circle. Yes he is in the individual believer, but this is referring to The spiritual Bond that 2 or 3 people have when they come together and agree on something. Just like when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego came together in agreement that they would not worship the idol image…they agreed only to worship God and he showed up in the Mist of the 3 and danced in the fire with them!!!!

    • Jonathan,
      As with any type of communication, the context is key to determining the meaning. If I said to my son right now, “You can have anything you want,” it would be important to know the context. In this particular case, he is in my study with me and I am referring to books. So he can have any of the books in here that he wants. As I explained in the post, the context clearly is dealing with properly confronting an errant brother, and Jesus uses the 2 or 3 gathered concept in the context of church discipline. To interpret it as you have, we would have to conclude that if I got my wife and daughter together, and we prayed for 10 billion dollars, then God would give it to us. Of course, that’s absurd.
      I’m not saying that this can never apply in a different situation. What I am saying is that many Christians misuse this verse when they act as if it was a promise from Jesus that whenever several believers are gathered together then He will be present with them. Why do they quote this when there are more than three? And the immediate context here deals with the correction of an erring brother, so the burden of proof is on the person who wants to use it for another purpose.

      • Hey Johnathan, you are not alone. Tim thinks all revolves around only context of the specific story. I also believe your general perspective. Tim’s example doesn’t even make sense. It does not say that is two or more get together, God will give you what you want (like 10 billion dollars) … only that God is there in your midst. Where it says “it will be done for them” that includes “according to God’s will” – which, since ALL is according to His will, that would apply here even though it is implied and not spelled out … how about this example … if i say to my son to always make sure that his change is correct while we are at Wendys – he can apply that advice elsewhere – as “always” (like this reading) implies elsewhere, even if not at a restaurant.

        • Hi Arthur,
          Thank you for proving my point about the context. If you would have been careful to read the context, then you would realize that it does indeed say that God will give them what they ask. Verses 19–20 state, “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” (NKJV). So my analogy is accurate after all.
          Also, you misrepresent my position. I do not think that “all revolves around only the context of the specific story.” I do believe that the immediate context carries more weight than the broader context.
          Finally, I believe you are conflating or confusing interpretation with application. My article is about the proper interpretation of the passage, and not necessarily how people apply it (except when they are doing it wrongly). When it comes to hermeneutics, the goal is to find the one right interpretation, and that’s when it moves on to application.

  32. Thank you so much for providing a thorough understanding of what Matt. 18:19-20 really means. In reading the first part of your article, I immediately remembered many in my church always alluding to this verse that whenever two or more are gathered together there Christ will be. I kept asking myself the question; isn’t He there even if one is in prayer? But you cleared it up for me and I will be able to gently share with my brothers and sisters what that passage really means. I know it will be an eye-opener to those who have always thought incorrectly.

  33. I like all your comments and agree that the context of the verse is not used correctly. And that both of you are correct because the law of the prophets was summed up into love one another. The greatest of these is love, put on love. Seems like you guys are full of knowledge thats awesome to have bible believing brothers and sisters. Love you guys keep fighting the good fight and being good soldiers in christ, and enjoy jesus.

  34. In the 1John3:22 passage (correct me if I’m wrong) you make it seem as if God rewards our good behaviour but if we read further on we realise that this is not what that commandment is referring to but this: ‘1Jn. 3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son,
    Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.’

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this. I think you are probably reading more into my comments than what was intended. I wasn’t trying to thoroughly explain 1 John 3:22. My point in bringing it up is to show that one doesn’t need to have 2 or 3 believers gathered together to have God answer prayer. So I was simply using this verse to show why the popular claim about Matthew 18:19–20.
      Regarding 1 John 3;22, I agree with you that v. 23 tells us that His commandment is to “believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” However, v. 22 mentions keeping His “commandments” (plural) and doing the “things” (plural) that are pleasing in His sight. So this would refer to more than just obeying the one commandment in v. 22. Thanks again for your thoughts!

      • I think Jesus doesn’t specify two or three gathered together as only in this instance, He says “whenever”. So, I believe it is fair to conclude that this includes prayer. And, while He also speaks in other areas of individual prayer, I believe that even in individual prayer, we do not pray alone. For example, just as Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah in Luke 12:26, I can also converse with Mary, and when mixed with the Lord’s prayer – during a rosary for example – there He is, in our midst.
        Why with Mary you may ask? Well, she does have influence with Jesus as His mother. And while we must ask for what in within God’s will and God’s plan for us, for it to be granted, Jesus has been swayed (see John 2: 3-11) so long as it is within that will and that plan.
        And finally, I recognize that all prayers are answered, even if it is with “no” or “not now.”

        • Art,
          The context determines what this is about. I am not saying that Christ isn’t present when 2 or 3 believers gather together—He certainly is, since He’s present within each believer. But that’s exactly the point. Two or three are not needed for Him to hear and answer our prayers. The two or three people have to do with correcting a fellow believer. That is the context of this passage.
          Mary does not have any part to play in our prayers. She was undoubtedly a godly woman, but she admitted that she needed a Savior (Luke 1:47), so she was not sinless. Also, there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). To think that one can go through Mary to influence Jesus is to deny His role as Mediator. There is absolutely no need to try to go through someone else. I think it would be rather insulting to Jesus to act as if He needs to be swayed by Mary, as if He isn’t loving enough, or gentle enough, etc. He was tempted in all points as we are, but He did not sin. He knows exactly what it is like to be human, and He is also the omniscient, omnipotent Creator.
          The Bible never instructs any believer to pray to anyone other than God. While we often seek to have others pray with and/or for us, there is never an instance in Scripture where believers call upon deceased believers to pray for them. To read that idea into John 2 is a huge stretch (and contradicts clear teachings in Scripture).
          I would say that all prayers to God are answered, even if it is with a “no” or “not now.”

          • Reading your explanation about matthew 18:20 i totally don’t agree with you…it is not literal Nor does limit the number of the believers with the context of the verse.what i really understand in that verse is ..it does not matter how many believers you are there the most important thing is even if you are few but your desire and faith and worship is real the attention of God is all yours…not literal that God is just present to them…God is all ears to you and your request.there are verses that are literal and some are not..Jesus uses parables.song of songs poetic …thats why we ask God for knowledge and wisdom in reading His word for deeper understanding and connection with God.

          • Megan, I’d be curious if you could back up your interpretation from the text itself. Yes, Jesus did use parables at times, but not in every passage, and this is no parable. Yes, we ask God for knowledge and wisdom in reading His word, but why do we need to try to find a deeper meaning than what He actually said?

  35. This is one of (many) the most misused bible verse in scripture. It drives me up a wall when people site that verse in prayer to mean two or more people have the power to provoke God. First of all, that interpretation makes no sense in the context of all the scripture that claim Christ resides in all believers. I hear this from pastors I greatly respect. Thank you for your clear and concise interpretation. CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT!

  36. Reading your answer to the use of Matthew 18:19-20 I have heard them used anoher way too, reguarding God being present for people to have Church services. I heard that used all my life.

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