Christians are not exempt from offending, or being offended by, one another. Sometimes one is justified in taking offense and sometimes a person has no grounds for having taken an offense. But, in both cases, a relational breach has occurred, and remedy must be sought. The pattern of Matthew 18:15-17 is a God-given procedure that provides a systematic method for addressing offenses between Christians. It is a procedure whereby conflicts can be addressed and resolution attained. In the course of the process, righteousness and justice are highlighted and sin is exposed. But even with a strict adherence to the rigid parameters of this procedure, there is still ample room for repentance and reconciliation - if that favored result is a possibility in a given incident.
Before discussing how an offense situation is to be addressed (with the potential of forwarding a mechanica1 procedure that might be used in a cold or legalistic manner) some other questions need attention. For example, when a problem does arise between saints, who is to go to whom? Also, what kind of attitudes should one expect to see displayed by the various parties in an offense situation? Should the offended saint be expected to have the same emotional, attitudinal or spiritual disposition as the offending saint? What about the disposition of any outside parties who are called into the fray? These are important questions and address of these will constitute the first section of this paper. This should help to introduce the human factor of emotions, actions, and reactions into a procedure which may otherwise be viewed as calloused or insensitive.
With these human factors as a backdrop, it is then appropriate to discuss the mechanics of how offense situations are to be worked through. The account of Matthew 18:15-17 does provide this material and will be examined in the second section of this paper.
If the findings in these first two sections simply become interesting discussions to then be relegated to a hypothetical or theoretical realm, little will have been accomplished. Therefore, the conclusion to this paper will include a proposition for implementing this procedure in a church or mission work. It is my conviction and experience that offenses do occur between saints and I hope to demonstrate a workable method for addressing this unfortunate reality. To ignore this reality, or deny it, is destructive and dishonoring to God. Offenders are too often allowed to go their way unscathed - while offended saints are left unacknowledged in their injury to work it out on their own. Neither of these scenarios is God's will for His Church. The purpose of this treatise is to demonstrate this assertion and then forward a method for dealing with offenses between Christians.
Offenses in General
The first question to be asked in an offense situation is who is supposed to go to whom? Jesus gives two answers to this question. In Matthew 18:15-17, He directs the one offended to go and meet with the offender. This will be discussed later in greater detail. But we also find Jesus describing another offense scenario earlier in Matthew's gospel. He said,
"If ... you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering" (Mt 5:23-24).
Many commentators believe this passage refers to the worshiping Christian who realizes at the altar his own sin against another Christian. Calvin says, "he means that as long as by our own fault we stand at variance with our nearest there is no open access for us to God" (Endnote 1). Homer Kent similarly believes that Jesus is addressing one who has wronged his brother (Endnote 2). These views are no doubt correct, but the command to act may go even further. If we know a brother has something against us - and sin against them on our part may not even be part of the mix - God still wants us to go. If Jesus' exhortation includes going even if we are convinced the perceived offense is illegitimate, then this matter of reconciliation between saints becomes an even weightier subject in God's program. Sherman Johnson has remarked,
"It is idle for a man to try to maintain right relations with God through worship if he is not at peace with his neighbor .... It is better to leave the church at the most sacred moment of worship than to delay a reconciliation" (Endnote 3).
So, who goes to whom? If sinned against, we are to go to the offender. If we sin against another, we go to the one offended. And it may be that if we know another Christian has even taken an illegitimate offense against us, we are still commanded to go and work toward reconciliation. Paul's statement may be quite appropriate here: "If possible, so far as depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Ro 5:12). In short, if a Christian knows that sin, or even perceived sin, has caused a relational breach, the Christian is to go and work toward reconciliation. This command to go is not dependent upon the source of the problem. If a breach exists, the saint is to go.
The next question inquires of the attitude of those involved in an offense situation. Should the offender, the offended, and any outside parties who get involved, all be of a similar attitude and spirit? The Bible can help us answer this by some specific passages as well as by some deduced Bible principles.
Sin causes damage. There are many references to sin against a saint being called, "a stumbling block" (Mt 17:1-2, Ro 14:13 and 1Cor 8:7-13). If I stumble on carpet, I may get up with little damage. But, if I stumble down a set of cement stairs, I may not even be able to get up because of the severity of injury. But even if I did not fall with the stumble, the shock of the stumble will bring out an emotional response. Reactions may include anger, fear, dismay, and these may appear, disappear, and reappear as they displace one another. They may also exist in differing intensity levels at different moments. If we believe that sin has the power to inflict spiritual wounds - cuts, bruises, or breaks - should it be expected that a sin-damaged saint go to an offender in a mild and gentle, kind and patient, loving spirit? It seems somewhat unreasonable to demand such a demeanor from one injured by sin. Conversely, if we have sinned against another, should we expect that injured saint to receive us in a mild, gentle, loving, kind and forgiving spirit? Infliction of sin does something. Its penetration into the heart - rips and tears as it progresses. The extent of injury depends upon the severity of the offense. It should be determined if one has stumbled to level ground, or fallen down a set of stairs. Some degree of latitude must be granted the injured saint for the expression of various intense emotions. Failure to grant this latitude is to deny the power of sin and its evil nature. Obviously, the injured saint is not given license to sin with this latitude. Paul told the Ephesians to "be angry, yet do not sin" (Eph 4:26). Indeed, God Himself reacts emotionally when sinned against. When offended, He has expressed emotions of anger (Ex 32:10, Deut 31:16-18), dismay (Hos 11:8, Mt 23:37), jealousy (Ex 20:5, Ex 34:14), and our sin can grieve Him (Eph 4:30) or quench Him as well (1Thes 5:19). Obviously, God incurs no sin by these reactions.
Along with this latitude given to the offended saint in working through a sin injury, there are two other elements I believe should be considered. First, if the offender never acknowledges wrongdoing, then the relational breach caused by that offense may never be healed. The injured saint can be encouraged "to overlook a transgression" (Pr 19:11), or apply a love that "covers a multitude of sins" (1Pet. 4:8) - but when there is no repentance on the part of the offending party, it is difficult at best for that relationship to be truly restored. The more important the particular relationship is to the injured saint, the greater the pressure can be on the injured saint who longs for reconciliation. Second, the injured saint must be allowed some time to recover from an offense - even if the offender does repent. It requires time to reflect on what happened, and why, and work through a sin injury before one can truly release it - thus gaining a genuinely restored relationship with the one who had caused an injury.
Each saint and each situation is unique and the offended party needs encouragement and support to successfully work through an offense situation. The procedure found in Matthew 18:15-17 addresses the needs of the offended one as expressed above. We shall see that the private meetings are designed to allow the injured saint to express his/her feelings, that unrepentance on the part of the offender is handled in such a way as to grant the offended saint a progressive vindication, and that there is reflection time available for all parties as the procedure for addressing the offense progresses.
Before examining the Matthew account, we should attend to one more topic. When examining the spirit in which offenses are to be addressed, there is one more group to consider. In Matthew 18, we shall see that Jesus calls the injured saint to bring others with him/her if the offense cannot be settled privately. What should be the spirit and attitude of these additional people? It seems to me that a brief look at Galatians 6:1 may give us some clues.
"Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourselves, lest you too be tempted" (Gal 6:1).
The sin situation described here in Galatians is different from the sin situation of Matthew 18. It appears Paul is addressing a situation of a saint falling into some sin problem (drunkenness, or bitterness over something, etc.) while Jesus is addressing a situation of some conflict between saints. But the parallel to which I am calling attention is that both settings call for Christians outside the offense zone to active involvement in the problem. While Jesus does not tell us of the spiritual demeanor of these additional saints, Paul does do that in the Galatians account (Endnote 4). In commenting on the Galatians account, Raymond Stamm states,
"What was needed was not harsh condemnation, but sympathetic help to get the lapsing member back into step with the Spirit. The Christian critic must be genuinely sorry for the other's plight and do all in his power to restore him; ... The Spirit's 'repairmen' are [to be] ... spiritual, endowed with faith and tact" (Endnote 5).
Roy Coad says the reference to "you who are spiritual ... refers not to any special order of spiritual men ... but potentially to any believer who is fulfilling [Ephesians] 5:25" (Endnote 6). These "repairmen" are to be people of tact, with all the Spirit's graces of gentleness, mercy, justice, and wisdom. This is to be the prevailing attitude of any Christians who are called to intervene in a sin situation. The situation may involve just one saint who has fallen into some sin (as in Galatians 6:1) or the situation may be a call to involvement in a Christian-to-Christian offense scenario (as in Matthew 18:15-17). These additional saints are to exhibit the attributes of God in their attitude and maintain as fair and objective an eye as possible.
In summary, I believe the spirit in which one goes when addressing an offense depends on one's relation to that offense. The person hit directly by the sin must be given some latitude in his/her reaction. The offended saint needs opportunity to vent feelings and time to work through the effects of the offense. And when the offender shows no repentance, the offended one may need additional time and understanding as the offended saint works through the injury. When considering the spirit and attitude of Christians who get involved in the offense scenario (and yet are not the primary parties in the problem) they should proceed with great care. Their goals should include gentleness, objectivity, wisdom, justice - all the Spirit's graces which can be procured and applied to the situation. If the desired goal of reconciliation can be obtained, these spiritual "repairmen" may become the catalysts and key to that end.
The Pattern of Matthew 18:15-17
Outside of the Matthew 18:15-17 account, there is no well-defined method for addressing offenses between Christians in the New Testament. There are only scattered procedural pointers. For example, the attitude for approaching one overtaken in a fault was just discussed (Gal 6:1). In Titus we find that a factious man is to be rejected "after a first and second warning" (Tit 3:10). The Corinthians, after gathering, were "to remove the wicked man from among" themselves (1Cor 5:13). Paul tells the Romans to keep their eye "on those who cause occasions of stumbling... and turn away from them" (Ro 16:17). The Thessalonians were to "keep aloof from ... and do not associate with" any brother who refused to work (2Thes 3:6,14). They were also to "take special note of that man" (2Thes 3:14). Even Paul's turning over of a professing Christian to Satan for discipline (1Ti 1:20) or flesh destruction (1Cor 5:5) lacks much procedural explanation, unless of course his declaration of that penalty was in itself sufficient to cause the reality to occur. Even though Matthew 18:15-17 appears to be a simple method which Jesus gave to his band of disciples so they could resolve disputes between Christians in their day, I hope to demonstrate the value of adopting this procedure as a formal part of any church's polity even now (Endnote 7). This simple process provides an effective method for offenses to be fully discussed and hopefully rectified. Furthermore, commitment to this procedure will help produce Christian tolerance within the fellowship, and that will result in at least an appearance of unity to the outside, unbelieving world. And if this procedure is practiced diligently, I believe a degree of genuine Christian unity will develop in time. Christians who may have formally split from one another will be better able to work through offenses and misunderstandings and will consequently be exposed to one another over a longer period of time. I am of the conviction, that if Christians have enough exposure to one another, they will be "taught by God (literally, 'God-taught') to love ('agapao') one another" (1Thes 4:9). God will cause (or allow) experiences to occur in such a way as to develop genuine respect for one another as human beings - and as Christians. This valuing, or esteeming, or respect for another is a very rudimentary aspect of the meaning of "agapao" (Endnote 8). Each human being, and particularly those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, possess an intrinsic value which commands respect. The command to "agapao" is one that Christians can willfully determine to do towards one another. If each Christian will do this, each Christian will also eventually see the contribution that each saint makes to the Body of Christ. (See Appendix).
Exegetical Overview of Major Points
Matthew 18: 15-17 reads as follows:
"And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private, if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 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. And 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 a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."
The textual witnesses of Matthew 18:15 do not all agree. While most of the New Testament textual variants are of little consequence, the variant found in verse 15 is of a greater consequence than the norm. The words, "eis se"(against you)," are omitted in some witnesses and included in others. As can be seen in the translation above, the NASB translators decided on omission of the phrase. If the words are omitted, then Jesus was telling the disciples that if their brother sins, they are to go reprove him in private. The sin could be any sin against anybody. If we expand this directive to the whole church, then each Christian is acting as his/her brother's keeper with everyone overseeing everyone else in matters of sin violations. In some ways, this could have a very beneficial effect especially since we unwittingly sin in various ways and our brethren may see our errors better than we do. So, if "eis se" is omitted, each Christian has the duty to speak with any Christian he/she sees who has committed, or is committing, sin. If the variant is included in this verse, then the disciples' responsibility to act is narrowed. When sinned against, then the trigger is pulled to begin the discipline process.
The Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament retained "eis se" in the text, but enclosed them in square brackets. These brackets are used "to enclose words ... whose presence or position in the text is regarded as disputed" (Endnote 9). When arguing that these words should not be included in the text, Metzger states these words may be "an early interpolation ... perhaps derived by copyists from the use of 'eis eme' in Ver. 21" (Endnote 10). In other words, copyists wanted this verse to be more compatible to Peter's remark in verse 21, so they added the words "eis se." When arguing that these words should be in the text, Metzger gives two possible reasons why some texts have left them out. First, the omission may have been "deliberate (in order to render the passage applicable to sin in general)" (Endnote 11). Copyists who may have done this would have been expansionists wanting all Christians overseeing all other Christians in matters of deviant (sinful) behaviors. But Metzger entertains a second possibility for the omission of "eis se" when he states it may have been "accidental (for in later Greek the pronunciation of 'a,' 'ai, and 'ei' was similar)" (Endnote 12). I assume this means that copyists may have improperly heard "eis se" being read to them as the previous word, "hamartasai," would have had a similar sounding ending.
When examining the textual witnesses, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus omit this phrase. These are both Alexandrian texts and are "usually considered to be the best text(s)" (Endnote 13) as they are characterized by "brevity and austerity" (Endnote 14). They are also quite early textual witnesses. In spite of this, I lean toward inclusion of "eis se" into the text. My reasons are of an internal nature. First, the passage is in greater concord with Matthew 18:21 when Peter says, "Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" If it is assumed Peter's question is immediately following Jesus' words in verses 15 through 20 (and the introductory, "tote" in verse 21 seems to make this at least a tenable assumption), then Peter is simply repeating a couple of words Jesus had just said. This focuses Peter's question on the issue of forgiveness without also introducing a second consideration of being the recipient of the sin violation. I think Peter was simply interested in the forgiveness issue and would have been parroting earlier words of Jesus as he was framing his inquiry. But a second reason I favor inclusion of "eis se" is because I believe the overall tenor of the Matthew 18:15-17 passage has a very personal tone to it. We will see that the entire process is designed to instruct the individual saint on his/her responsibility when a sin situation occurs. I see this as a procedure for addressing personal offenses between individual saints. If "eis se" is omitted, it seems curious that singular pronouns are retained throughout the entire passage especially if the offender remains unrepentant at the end of the process. Rather than a finally impenitent saint to be regarded by you ("soi" - singular number) as a Gentile or a tax-gatherer, it seems that an impenitent one should be regarded by the entire church as an outsider. As the committed sin was not necessarily against the individual saint (maybe some sin against an unbeliever to which the prosecuting saint was privy), for Jesus to retain the singular pronoun, particularly in verse 17, simply is not reasonable. The plural personal pronoun, "humin," should stand in verse 17 as the offender would have betrayed the entire church by his/her sin. I believe this will become more clear by the discussion that follows in the verse-by-verse exposition as the singular pronoun, "soi" is discussed in greater detail (pages 14 to 16).
The conclusion to view "eis se" as the original reading must be acknowledged as highly subjective. It is based upon personal deduction and intuition. Two of the guiding principles when examining variant readings from an internal perspective (with transcriptional tamperings being suspect), are that "in general, the more difficult reading is to be preferred" (Endnote 15) and "in general, the shorter reading is to be preferred" (Endnote 16). This is especially true when it appears that a copyist may be trying to smooth out a passage in making it more concordant with another passage. One could certainly make that case when examining the passage that is in question. But, Metzger also states that "textual criticism is an art as well as a science" (Endnote 17) and when stating the two principles quoted above he prefaces both by the words, "in general." When examining the more difficult readings he states that "sometimes a point is reached when a reading must be judged to be so difficult that it can have arisen only by accident in transcription" (Endnote 18). In this instance, the omission of "eis se" seems to make such a reading. Without "eis se," application of this procedure for addressing offenses quickly becomes quite confusing - particularly with the passage's retention of "soi" ("to you" - singular). I believe Jesus' intent in this passage was to provide a procedure for an offended saint, who was offended by another saint, to be able to seek a remedy. To be such a procedure, "eis se" needs inclusion in the text (Endnote 19).
In turning attention to grammatical considerations, there are two major grammatical veins that run through this passage. The first is the repeated use of "ean" with the subjunctive mood and the other is the tense choices of the five imperative verbs.
"Ean" is a conjunction. It is a "combination of 'ei' plus 'an'" (Endnote 20). "An" is a particle which indicates "uncertainty or indefiniteness" (Endnote 21). Therefore, it is not unusual if we find "ean" "used with the mood for uncertainty - the subjunctive. It introduces a hypothetical condition. Consequently, a statement introduced by 'ean' was not regarded with such certitude as one introduced by 'ei'" (Endnote 22). Machen defines this construction of "ean" with the subjunctive as a future condition. It "refers to an indefinite future" (Endnote 23). Our three verses of Matthew contain this construction five times. It seems to me the English words "supposing that" or "let us hypothetically suppose that" (avoiding a hortatory subjunctive connotation here) fits our context quite accurately. It captures the hypothetical nature of the discourse, its indefiniteness (broad and general without even a hint of present tense finger pointing) plus it captures the deliberate intent of the subjunctive in pointing at a future possible scenario. The real beauty of this construction in this context is that even though offenses will inevitably come (and these instructions will need employment regularly), Jesus puts the scene as one that does not have to happen. Christians do not have to sin against one another. They can choose otherwise. But, "let us hypothetically suppose that" they do not choose righteousness - what then? Here then comes the prescribed procedure and remedy. This subjunctive construction is a stroke of genius. The ability of the saint always to choose righteousness is given full due, but the rebelliousness of the saint is also acknowledged as the Lord enunciates this procedure for dealing with offenses between Christians.
It is also noteworthy that all five of these subjunctives are in the aorist tense. It is quite natural that punctiliar action would be in view as no durative action is called for (Endnote 24).
The other primary major grammatical vein running through this passage involves the tense choices of the five imperative verbs. Even though some grammarians question the consistency of New Testament writers' adherence to the common present, or aorist, Aktionsart while using the imperative mood (Endnote 25), I believe these five imperatives contain carefully chosen tenses of the common Aktionsart. The present tense has continued, durative action in view, while the aorist has no emphasis on repeated action. When contrasting the two tenses, Moulton says the present tense imperative is "less pressing, less rude, less ruthless than the aorist" (Endnote 26). Stated another way, an aorist imperative, in a punctiliar sense, is a punch - not a process. He also states that the aorist imperative carries a "once and for all" weight (Endnote 27), and "is more or less restricted to precepts concerning conduct in specific cases" (Endnote 28). In short, the aorist imperative is a sharp, clean, clear-cut command that is simply to be done - not doing - but done.
Another slightly different facet of the aorist imperative is that it "can be seen as a command to commence some action" (Endnote 29). This seems particularly appropriate in commands three and four where the brushed off offended one should take one or two more on a return visit and if rebuffed again, he should tell it to the church.
Moulton also points out that the "difference in Aktionsart is best seen when both tenses lie together" (Endnote 30). I believe an example of this tense assertion can be seen in this Matthew passage.
You keep going (present)
You reprove once (aorist)
You take witnesses once (aorist)
You tell the church once (aorist)
and you are to linearly regard the unrepentant one as an outsider (present).
These tense choices are of great practical importance to this system for addressing offenses. The offended saint is to persist in his pursuit to gain private audience with the offender until he gets that audience. This is then followed by three aorist punches (if needed), to then be followed by a durative condition towards the unrepentant (Endnote 31).
Along with these two major grammatical veins, there is also one pervasive syntax pattern. The entire passage is one of, "if ... then," statements. All five of the "if" clauses are introduced by "ean" with the subjunctive (the protasis) introducing a hypothetical situation. The "then" clauses are all result clauses (the apodosis) composed of a statement of fact, or else an imperative that is to prompt further action. The main structure is as follows:
If your brother sins against you, then go and reprove him (resultant commanded action).
If he hears, then you've won your brother (resultant and end of issue).
If he does not hear, then take witnesses (and go) (resultant commanded action).
If he does not hear them, then tell it to the church (resultant commanded action).
If he does not hear the church, then alienation (a resultant commanded action which also functions as the final result and end of procedural action).
Actually there are two "if . . . then" statements that are omitted from this passage. The first one should follow the confrontation by the offended party with his witness(es). It is implied that "if he hears them, then you have gained your brother." The same is true following the report to the church. It might be that Jesus did not want to offend his hearer's intelligence through redundancy by the insertion of the obvious. But I think it is more likely that He wanted this procedure to be as unencumbered as possible in its flow from start to finish. Conciseness of, and obedience to, this process are Jesus' chief concerns. Repentance by the errant Christian at any point in the process ends the procedure.
Before a verse by verse treatment of Matthew 18:15-17, there are five Greek words that need treatment. They are "elencho," "kerdaino," "rhema," "parakouo" and "ekklesia."
"Elencho" is translated, "reprove," or "rebuke," in most English translations. Homer used it to mean, "insult" (Endnote 32) or "to scorn" or "to bring into contempt" (Endnote 33). Later it picked up the facet of "testing, examining, or inquiring into a matter," (Endnote 34) or "to investigate" (Endnote 35). One was brought to shame through investigative exposure (Endnote 36). The Greek philosophers used "elencho" to mean, "the logical exposition of the facts of a matter for the purpose of refuting the ... argument of an opponent. Thus the word developed its principle meaning of convince, refute" (Endnote 37). But, another very important development in the evolution of meaning for "elencho" came through the Stoic philosophers. They transformed this concept "from the intellectual argument to the application of philosophical ethics" (Endnote 38). The impetus became one of "correcting the practical principles of living" (Endnote 39). The writers of the LXX used "elencho" in much the same sense as "paideuo" ("to discipline, "rear," or "train"). Thus, they virtually become synonyms - particularly in the wisdom literature (Endnote 40). Link points out that these parallel uses of "elencho" are brought into the New Testament (Endnote 41). Buchsel unknowingly picks up on this "paideuo" parallelism when he expounds on the definition of "elencho" saying, "The word does not mean only 'to blame' or 'to reprove' nor 'to convince' in the sense of proof, nor 'to reveal' or 'expose' but 'to set right' namely, 'to point away from sin to repentance'" (Endnote 42). In our context, "elencho" means, "to show a person his/her error or fault for what it is - to convince that one intellectually and ethically or practically of its wrongness." And the reason for this energy expenditure is for the corrective training of the errant one - in other words, repentance. When a saint is offended, he/she is to go and expose the sin and its consequences as clearly as possible. The attitude is one of an appeal, calling on all the sensibilities of the offender, yet the one offended is not called upon to compromise principle or conviction.
"Kerdaino" is rendered, "won" or "gained," in most translations. It means, "to make to profit or gain an advantage, gain something or somebody for something; it can also mean to spare or avoid" (Endnote 43). In Homer's time, the plural use of the verb also picked up a "sense of 'crafty counsels,' 'cunning,' etc." (Endnote 44). In the New Testament, "kerdaino" is sometimes used in a negative sense as in motives for base gain. But it is also used in a positive sense, as in Paul's missionary efforts with a view of gaining or winning souls (Endnote 45). In our context, if the errant one is convinced of his/her error and repents, then that Christian is gained or won. The other meaning of "to spare or avoid" is quite interesting, as a realigned saint might not only be spared from the discipline of the church but might also "avoid" discipline from the Father if the sin (and possible habit of it) is checked. There is one final consideration of the meaning of "kerdaino" in our text. If we can rightly impose a view of "crafty counsels" or "cunning" in its positive sense, then this word interlocks with, and even enhances, our conception of the word, "elencho." There would be a cunning craftiness (positive sense) to the "elencho" process. We would diligently be seeking in this reproof action to speak to that errant saint in terms of his/her own interests. We could expose how the error could be potentially detrimental to one's own place in life (and eternity) if it is left unacknowledged and/or persisted in. The gaining or winning of that errant one would have an element of positive cunning.
"Rhema" is translated, "word," almost universally. Debrunner observes the root, "rhe-," "only exceptionally ... forms a present, though the other tenses are common .... Thus, the sense is clearly nondurative, 'to state specifica1ly'" (Endnote 46). He points out this also holds true with derivatives of "rhema" (Endnote 47). The epigram of Simonides used it in reference to "military orders," and Plato in reference to "pithy saying(s) in contrast to long speeches" (Endnote 48). In the LXX, "rhema" and "logos" are used quite interchangeably, but by New Testament times it has regained its specificity with rare exception (Endnote 49). So, "rhema" means, "that which is stated intentionally, a word, an utterance" (Endnote 50). In our context, one reason for the extra witness(es) is so that "pan rhema" - every single word, or each word - might be established. Even though "rhema" is found here as part of an Old Testament quotation, the presence of "pan" (each, every") precludes any kind of interchangeableness with "logos" in making "rhema" mean a broad or general accounting of the conversation. Every word, of this second meeting with the offender, is to be carefully established by the witness(es) who has been brought alongside the one who has been sinned against.
"Parakouo" is usually rendered, "refuses to listen," or some similar phrase. It is a compound word that can mean, "to hear amiss" (hear incorrectly), or it can mean,"to overhear" (Endnote 51). Eventually, "parakouo" "in the Hellenistic period meant, 'not to be willing to hear,' i.e., 'to be disobedient'" (Endnote 52). But perhaps more in keeping with our context, "parakouo" can mean, "leave unheeded; refuse to hear" (Endnote 53) or "disregard" (Endnote 54). There is no question the errant one has heard and understands the complaint - especially by the time the offense and offender is announced to the church. To "parakouo" the added witness(es), or the church, is an act of leaving unheeded, or refusing to hear, or disregarding their complaint. It might consist of an attitude where he brushes them off lightly, or it could be all the way to the extreme of a violent, passionate opposition to their contentions. But regardless of the attitudes or actions of the offender, one thing is certain - the issue has settled through the sieve of this procedure into two polarized positions.
"Ekklesia" is generally translated, "church." The use of this term in Matthew 18:17 (and an earlier use in Matthew 16:18) has generated a great deal of controversy. As the church had not yet been created, there are some who maintain this term was imposed on Jesus by Matthew or some other writer in the early church. Bultmann states that "some words were attributed to Jesus which had originated in the community" (Endnote 55) and he believes "ekklesia" to be one such word (Endnote 56). He also believes the entire Matthew 18:15-17 account to have been "created independently by the Church" (Endnote 57). In a similar vein, Walter Bundy maintains the entire passage "breathes a spirit very different from that found in many authentic words of Jesus" (Endnote 58).
Others believe "ekklesia" should "be understood in terms of a reference to the Synagogue" (Endnote 59). Plummer states, "evidently 'the Church' here cannot mean the Christian Church which Christ intends to build (16:18). It means the Jewish assembly" (Endnote 60). In rebuttal to this position, Harold Fowler states, "if the Lord meant 'synagogue,' why did He avoid using the word instead of church ("ekklesia")? No, He speaks proleptically, by anticipation, i.e. representing the future fellowship as if it were even then a present reality" (Endnote 61). Schmidt observes that the word "'church' is now so loaded a term that we cannot make do with it alone. Perhaps 'church community' might be recommended as a term to describe the 'assembly (of God)'" (Endnote 62). I believe this is an important observation to begin with - if one is going to be able to look at the word "ekklesia" in a more objective light.
The basic meaning of "ekklesia" is "an assembly" (Endnote 63). It is a gathering together of people for some common purpose. The purpose of a "called out" group (a literal rendering of the preposition, "ek" and the verb, "kaleo") can be either for a secular theme or, as in this case, for a spiritual Christian gathering (Endnote 64). Luke even uses this term for the mob of Ephesus that wanted Paul's blood (Ac 19:32, 39, 41). When Jesus is instructing His disciples to take some unresolved situation to the church ("ekklesia"), I believe it is improper to impose some "church" concept upon His words. He was speaking to His disciples in simple terms they could readily grasp and apply. All He meant here, in my opinion, is that if the offender has brushed off this second reproving party, then go ahead and tell it to your whole "called-out" group of which you all are participants. Jesus was using the term "ekklesia" in its simple meaning of "a gathering." In this case, the purpose of the gathering happens to be the things of God - but this theme should not be imposed on the word itself.
"And if your brother sins (against you) ...."
"Ho adelphos sou" (your brother) - Notice this whole passage is in the context of brothers. Hence, this is a procedure to be used when offenses have occurred between two professing Christians.
"Hamartasa" (sins) - As an aorist subjunctive, there is no reference to durative action. It only takes one sin to trigger this entire procedure.
"go and reprove him"
There is no conjunction between the imperatives, "hupage elengxon" (you go - you reprove). Two imperatives together form a syntactical device called an asyndeton (Endnote 65). Robertson states this construction "often gives emphasis" (Endnote 66). He also says, "Winer finds asyndeton frequent in cases of a climax in impassioned discourse ... (and the) absence of the connective (i.e., "kai" [and]) gives life and movement" to the particular text (Endnote 67). Moulton concurs there "are probably asyndetic additions to the normal imperative" citing "hupago" as one of those verbs often found in such constructions (Endnote 68).
The words are, "metaxu sou kai autou monou." Literally this says, "between you and him alone." Moulton maintains that this entire phrase is an Aramaic idiom meaning, "privately" (Endnote 69). That is undoubtedly correct, but in this instance a word-for-word translation can justify its awkwardness if the word order is retained. The word, "monou" (alone) stands at the end of the phrase emphasizing the total privacy of the meeting. "Between you and him" should sufficiently capture the private nature of the meeting, but the addition of "alone" syntactically emphasizes a cardinal rule in the first stage of this process. This meeting is to be totally private.
"Sou" (you), is an emphatic, singular personal pronoun. The offended saint is to act in solo. This initial stage calls the injured saint to act on his/her own initiative. There is risk involved, and it does take courage to follow and obey Jesus Christ.
"If he listens to you, you have won your brother ... "
This conversation will end in one of two ways. Supposing he hears you, then the case is closed. And you have won your brother. "Kerdaino" (have won), is in the aorist tense and Robertson believes the use of the aorist in this context is an example of the dramatic aorist (Endnote 70), which Dana and Mantey describe as an idiomatic "device for emphasis" (Endnote 71). Robertson also thinks this may possibly be a gnomic aorist whereby emphasis in the text is then not a factor (Endnote 72). But in either case, the aorist would indicate a present sense. I prefer to see it emphatically - "if he hears you, you win your brother!" Success!
"but if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you ..."
There is an implied present tense imperative in this verse. You do not simply take beside yourself one or two witnesses ("paralabe") but you also go ("hupage") with them - keep going with them - until you attain this second meeting. We really have an implied asyndeton where I believe the emphasis of an asyndeton is abandoned for the more important syntactical/grammatical structure of the whole passage. The string (syntax) of aorists (grammar) at this point would be broken (reprove ... take ... tell) thus possibly clouding the "boom! boom! boom!" nature of the heart of this commanded procedure. The syntactical structure and grammatical nature of the use of the aorist tense outweighs the value of emphatic intermediate asyndetons in this verse and verse 17 as well.
"Sou" (you) is again singular. The pressure for singular initiative is retained.
"in order that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed."
"Hina" (in order that) introduces a purpose clause. The reason for the witness(es) is to establish every word.
The rest of this clause is a quotation from Deuteronomy 19:15. In that context, the judicial process was in view for the nation Israel. To be used in this context validates the judicial nature of this procedure when an offense has occurred.
"Epi stomatos" means, "upon the mouth." This is "picturesque phraseology" (Endnote 73) whereby "the idea of 'basis' is a natural metaphor" (Endnote 74).
It is syntactically significant that "pan rhema" (every word) is at the end of the sentence. This is often an emphatic device. "Pan," as a singular, often means, "every" or "each." When this is coupled with the definiteness of the word "rhema," all falling at the end of a sentence, and also with the authority of an Old Testament quote - the impact is quite intensive. The seriousness and sobriety of the matter at hand is clearly expressed in this construction.
This stage of the procedure should ferret out false "offenses." Some people imagine offenses when none have actually occurred. The witnesses are hopefully objective and wise enough to discern the legitimacy of the entire matter at hand. John Gibson makes a further observation saying,
"Our Lord is not dealing with ordinary quarrels, where there are faults on both sides, in which case the first step would be ... to acknowledge our own (fault), but ... [it is] all on the other side" (Endnote 75).
But even an imagined offense, if not dealt with, is a very real matter. Relationally, it has the same result as a genuine offense - a fractured relationship. So, the second stage of this procedure can provide a great service in identifying unfounded offenses. It is impossible for us to know how many saints have gone through their sojourn thinking they were sinned against by another saint when objective spiritual saints could have exposed the ungrounded nature of their offense taking (Endnote 76).
"And 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 ..."
Robertson refers to these two subjunctive clauses as "concessive clauses" (Endnote 77). And in this context they are "climacteric" (Endnote 78).
The most significant word in this verse is "soi" (to you). "He must be to you ...." In fact, this may be the most important word of the entire passage. "Soi" is a second person, personal pronoun, but the important element is its singular number. Jesus began this discourse by telling an offended person what he/she should do if sinned against by another professing Christian. The entire process has had primary focus on that singular sinned-against saint. That saint was to initiate each step in this process as he/she sought remedy for the violation. By the time "soi" is used here in verse 17, the process has been exhausted and the offender has continued in obstinacy - even in the face of the entire church's condemnatory assessment. With this use of "soi," it appears that Jesus is addressing His final imperative to that saint who was originally sinned against - just as He had done with each of the previous imperatives. But it is precisely at this point that commentators vary greatly among themselves on whether to treat "soi" as a singular pronoun or as a plural pronoun. If "soi" is interpreted as a singular, then only the offended saint is commanded to ostracize the impenitent saint. But, if "soi" is interpreted as a plural, then the entire church is commanded to ostracize the impenitent saint. Obviously, the practical consequences of one's chosen position is great. Because of this, I believe it is of great importance to examine the varying positions in some detail.
There are three basic positions taken in relation to this word. The first position treats "soi" as a second person, plural pronoun. Its singular number is not even acknowledged. The second position acknowledges "soi" as a singular, but believes it is to be understood in a plural sense. The third position acknowledges "soi" as a singular pronoun that is to be understood as such.
Position One: "Soi" ("to you") as a Plural Pronoun
Interpreters of this group are either unaware that "soi" is singular - or else they are so convinced that "soi" is to be interpreted as a plural that they do not even relate its singular number to their readers. Since English does not have a written distinction for the pronoun "you" in the singular or plural, this type of gloss is easy to accomplish. The result of interpreting "soi" as a plural is as follows. Once the process has been exhausted the unrepentant one is to be deemed by "you all" - the whole church - as an outsider. As Gardner states, he is "one who stands outside the circle of faith" (Endnote 79). Furthermore, there is "a radical redefinition of the relationship .... The community will no longer relate to the person as a fellow disciple, but as someone of the world" (Endnote 80). Similarly, a commentary edited by Orrin Root, states that the unrepentant "can no longer be considered a member" (Endnote 81). If there is no repentance after the public hearing, the sin is considered grievous enough to result in expulsion from the Christian community. Hendriksen echoes this sentiment by stating, "because of his own stubbornness he has lost his right to church membership, and it has now become the church's painful duty to make this declaration" (Endnote 82). When abstracting an article by R. Loria on this passage, John J. Collins says, "the excommunication implicit ... applies both to the external forum (the member is cut off from this visible church) and to the internal forum (the sinner ceases to be a living member of the Christian body)" (Endnote 83). Laney also concurs with this position as he concludes, "when the church leaders and congregation have made every effort to bring the sinner to repentance without results, they must then disassociate the offender from the church fellowship" (Endnote 84). As an example of church polity use, the Mennonite Church places Matthew 18:15- 17 "under nonconformity where the passage (is) applied to gossip" (Endnote 85). This was to counter anyone who might "gainsay the decisions of the bishops" (Endnote 86). Constitutionally, this passage is used with "soi" being understood as a plural pronoun.
Position Two: "Soi" ("to you") Acknowledged as a Singular but Applied as a Plural.
This position acknowledges that "soi" is a singular. The unrepentant offender is to be to you - singularly - an outsider. But proponents of this position maintain that the original transgression is no longer the primary issue. Anyone going through this process without repenting is now guilty of a more grievous offense. Fowler states,
"his obstinate attitude is divisive, separatist, dismembering, because he resists every try at dealing with the mini-schism separating him from one brother! Why should this virtual pagan contaminate the rest by his obstinate impenitence?" (Endnote 87).
In a similar vein, Lewis says,
"the man who refuses to be reconciled to his fellow disciple has cut himself off from the church and while in this condition is not to be regarded as a true member of it" (Endnote 88).
Gundry believes "soi" is singular primarily because of a parallelism "with preceding instructions" (Endnote 89) and that "all the disciples are to join in the ostracism" (Endnote 90). Lenski maintains that "soi" "mentions only the brother originally sinned against, but certainly what applies to him applies to all the rest, even as they finally act jointly, and the brother acts only in accordance with the verdict of his other brethren" (Endnote 91).
Calvin stated that one who goes through this process without repenting is "a despiser of the church" (Endnote 92) and should "be removed from the believers' fellowship" (Endnote 93). But he does modify this position when he also states that the church should distinguish if the original offense was a "crime" or simply "a fault" (Endnote 94). The latter is a lighter offense for which "verbal chastisement is enough" (Endnote 95). "But," he adds, "shameful acts need to be chastised with a harsher remedy" (Endnote 96). That remedy would be banishment from the church "until repentance" occurs (Endnote 97).
Position Three: "Soi" ("to you") as a Singular Pronoun and Used as Such.
This is undoubtedly the minority position. John Lightfoot and Matthew Henry are the only two I found espousing this position. In speaking of Jewish custom, Lightfoot acknowledges that those who "were obstinate ... after public admonition ... [had] a mark of infamy set upon them" (Endnote 98). But Lightfoot calls his readers to recognize that Jesus said, "Let him be 'to thee'... not, Let him be 'to the church'" (Endnote 99) as a Gentile or a tax-gatherer. Lightfoot believes this procedure is for private Christian-to-Christian offenses and though the offended one may be loosed "from the law of brotherly obligation" (Endnote 100) others in the church do not have "the same reason" (Endnote 101). Matthew Henry takes this position but with a modification. In his commentary he expounds this entire passage twice. The first exposition comments on the procedure when addressing "quarrels among Christians" (Endnote 102). These are lesser offenses of the more personal and private nature. If the quarrel remains unresolved (and the offense is not in itself of an excommunicative nature), he maintains the offended one can "break off thy friendship and familiarity ... [and] choose whether thou wilt have any dealings with him" (Endnote 103). Henry then addresses all three verses again, but this time with "scandalous sin" constituting the offense (Endnote 104). He concludes this exposition by stating that if the offender remains impenitent, "let him be cast out of the communion of the church" (Endnote 105).
Although Position One has the majority of proponents, I believe it to be an unsatisfactory gloss. Position Two's weakness is that an original "minor" offense balloons into an excommunicative offense just by moving through this procedure in Matthew 18:15-17. It gets swallowed up by a new sin. I am not at all convinced that an unrepentant offender automatically becomes "a despiser of the church" (Endnote 106) or schismatic just because he/she fails to yield to a public pronouncement on some lesser sin. That offender would obviously be marked by the fellowship as stubborn or obstinate, but new charges worthy of excommunication should only be levied with the greatest of care and humility. Position Three as held by Lightfoot is closer to the mark, but fails to take into account the original sin's nature. There are excommunicative sins that can occur on the personal and private level that should result in excommunication if the offender fails to repent. Matthew Henry's modification of position three seems to me to be the most reasonable. The personal and private lesser offenses can be addressed to a satisfactory conclusion without having the obstinate offender automatically excommunicated. But if the offense is of an excommunicative level, the impenitent reaps that result. Henry's modification on the third position makes this procedure practical for all levels of offense. Also, by treating "soi" as the singular pronoun that it is, the text is allowed to stand in its literal form. I believe this was Jesus' intent in the first place. This whole passage has a very singular personal tone to it from beginning to end. He is speaking as though to one person, an offended person, and is giving that one person instructions on how to deal with an offense from start to finish. His focus on that one has been consistently retained in the whole procedure. I believe that was quite intentional.
"like a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."
"Hosper" is translated, "like" or in some versions, "as." In this compound word, the particle "per" serves to "augment and bring out the force of 'hos'" (Endnote 107). "Hos" very often functions as "an adverb of comparison" (Endnote 108) and in this context Jesus is making a comparison of an unrepentant Christian to the Gentile and tax collector. As a conjunction, "hos" can "'introduce consequence' meaning, 'so that'" (Endnote 109). It seems to me that "hosper" is carrying both the adverbial sense of comparison and a conjunction sense of consequence.
Gentiles and tax collectors were two distinct groups. I assume the tax collector in this context is a reference to a Jew who was working for the Romans - collecting taxes from his fellow Jews. And Matthew knew this group well! My point is that if "kai" is simply translated "and," you actually have two parallel illustrations. But if it is translated "even," you have a progression of disdain. "Let him be to you as a Gentile, an outsider, one ignorant and alienated from the things of God - but, even worse, a tax gatherer - a traitor!" The intensifying degree of disdain for the unrepentant, convicted-by-all offender, should be maintained in this comparison. The disciples felt this into the depths of their hearts - penetrating as a deep stake in light of that contemporary culture and political/religious atmosphere.
(End of Part 1. For "Resultant Translation and Conclusion," "Appendix," and bibliographies, please go to Part 2. Sorry about that - space restrictions. You are almost done - so, if you have come this far ... keep plugging! Copyright 1992 - Master Thesis. Sincerely, Robin Calamaio.)
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