Matthew 18: 15 — 20
Ordinary 23 Year A
16 13 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. 14 If he refuses to listen
18 15 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
19 16 Again, (amen,) I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything
20 17 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am
11 [15-20] Passing from the duty of Christian disciples toward those who have strayed from their number, the discourse now turns to how they are to deal with one who sins and yet remains within the community. First there is to be private correction (⇒ Matthew 18:15); if this is unsuccessful, further correction before two or three witnesses (⇒ Matthew 18:16); if this fails, the matter is to be brought before the assembled community (the church), and if the sinner refuses to attend to the correction of the church, he is to be expelled (⇒ Matthew 18:17). The church’s judgment will be ratified in heaven, i.e., by God (⇒ Matthew 18:18). This three-step process of correction corresponds, though not exactly, to the procedure of the Qumran community; see 1QS 5:25-6:1; 6:24-7:25; CD 9:2-8. The section ends with a saying about the favorable response of God to prayer, even to that of a very small number, for Jesus is in the midst of any gathering of his disciples, however small (⇒ Matthew 18:19-20). Whether this prayer has anything to do with the preceding judgment is uncertain.
12  Your brother: a fellow disciple; see ⇒ Matthew 23:8. The bracketed words, against you, are widely attested but they are not in the important codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus or in some other textual witnesses. Their omission broadens the type of sin in question. Won over: literally, “gained.”
14  The church: the second of the only two instances of this word in the gospels; see the note on ⇒ Matthew 16:18. Here it refers not to the entire church of Jesus, as in ⇒ Matthew 16:18, but to the local congregation. Treat him . . . a Gentile or a tax collector: just as the observant Jew avoided the company of Gentiles and tax collectors, so must the congregation of Christian disciples separate itself from the arrogantly sinful member who refuses to repent even when convicted of his sin by the whole church. Such a one is to be set outside the fellowship of the community. The harsh language about Gentile and tax collector probably reflects a stage of the Matthean church when it was principally composed of Jewish Christians. That time had long since passed, but the principle of exclusion for such a sinner remained. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication in ⇒ 1 Cor 5:1-13.
15  Except for the plural of the verbs bind and loose, this verse is practically identical with ⇒ Matthew 16:19b and many scholars understand it as granting to all the disciples what was previously given to Peter alone. For a different view, based on the different contexts of the two verses, see the note on ⇒ Matthew 16:19.
16 [19-20] Some take these verses as applying to prayer on the occasion of the church’s gathering to deal with the sinner of ⇒ Matthew 18:17. Unless an a fortiori argument is supposed, this seems unlikely. God’s answer to the prayer of two or three envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation. In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as anything for which they are to pray.
17  For where two or three . . . midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in A.D. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: “. . . When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them” (Pirqe Abot 3:3).
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,