Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Matthew 18:15-18

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

[Before I finish my review of Mr. Armstrong’s chapter on the church, I thought that I would exegete two other commonly used texts in support of high church-ism, Ephesians 3:10 and Matthew 18:17. Though they are not cited in Mr. Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses, I have seen them used by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists in the past, and so, I believe that it would be helpful to include them in this series.]

Matthew 18:15-18

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault 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. 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 collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” –Matthew 18:15-18

Issue Raised: Does the Church Hierarchy Have Binding Infallible Authority?

Roman Catholic apologists will sometimes cite this text to support the belief that the church, being defined as the order of higher clerics (or in the case of Eastern Orthodoxy, the universal church as a whole), has binding infallible authority in its pronouncements. But is this really saying that?

Exegesis

Just before the instructions in vv.15-18 are given, Christ gave the parable of the lost sheep (vv.12-14). In it, He teaches that if one sheep (i.e. in this parable, representing a believer) goes astray (i.e. temporarily falls into sin or separates from the church), that the shepherd (i.e. God) will search for it until He finds it. If the lapsed Christian returns to the flock, then God will rejoice over it for it is the will of God that no believer should perish.

This is a teaching about what to do when a lapsed Christian returns to the church. A repentant Christian should be accepted back into the body of Christ without hesitation or anger but with happiness and praise to God.

Christ then turns to the opposite situation in which an unrepentant member refuses to leave the church, and the Lord gives an outline on how to deal with this situation.

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

The first step is to approach the sinful member privately and rebuke him gently for his acts (or in the case of heresy, his false beliefs). If he repents, then great! If not, then…

“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.” –Matthew 18:16

Here, Christ tells the church to use standard Israelite legal proceedings for dealing with this man. If after a private attempt at correction fails, two or three should gently rebuke the man to get him to repent so that the sinful member may know that it was not just the personal opinion of the first corrector. If this attempt fails, then…

“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 collector.” –Matthew 18:17

If a private attempt fails and an attempt with two or three fails, then the correctors are to go to the church with the matter. Now, back in the life and times of the Lord Jesus, the word, “ecclesia,” simply meant “congregation”, referring to the attendance at the local synagogue. It is a semantic anachronism (see the intro., part a.) to assert that the word, “church,” here refers to the bishops and other clergy (as it later came to mean in Roman Catholicism) comprising the hierarchy of the church to the exclusion of the rest of the Christian congregate. As the commentary to the NAB on the USCCB website explains:

“[17] 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.”
-Commentary on Matthew 18:17 NAB
http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/matthew/matthew18.htm#foot11

If the sinful brother does not repent at even this, then he is to be treated as an unclean heathen; that is, he is to be excommunicated.

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

Now, the NASB is the only translation (that I have seen) which translates the meaning of this verse in the sense indicated by the context. That is, it recognizes (as the side margin informs the reader) that this phrase “shall be loosed” is, in Greek, a future perfect passive. In other words, the sense of the phrase (as is translated literally in the NASB) should be: “shall have been bound.” The IVP New Testament Commentary notes:

“God authorizes the Christian judicial assembly that follows these procedures to act on the authority of heaven. The unrepentant person has already left God's way and cannot be restored without repentance. The verb tenses allow (though do not demand) the meaning the context suggests: the earthly action follows the heavenly decree (compare Mantey 1973). By removing an unrepentant sinner from the Christian community, believers merely ratify the heavenly court's decree (see Keener 1991a:141-43; in Jewish courts, compare t. Rossashana 1:18), removing branches already dead on the vine (compare Jn 15:2, 6).” (bold emphasis mine)
- IVP New Testament Commentary, Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 18:15-20
http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/index.php?action=getCommentaryText&cid=1&source=1&seq=i.47.18.7

Thus, whatever the church (again, the local congregation) decides in regards to this unrepentant member, the decision by the church was simply to recognize what God had already seen in the sinner’s heart and decreed in terms of the means of correction (see also 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Titus 3:10-11, and Hebrews 12:6). Again, the decision is merely a public recognition of what God in heaven has already said should happen to this man or woman.

So, the “binding” given is a real authority given to the local congregation of Christ to excommunicate unrepentant members, not the ability to make infallible doctrinal pronouncements.


[Note: When this procedure is not followed correctly, a sinful member can be left within the congregation causing others to follow into wicked ways, or a faithful member could be unjustly excommunicated. In the first case, the church failed to do what God decreed should happen, and in the latter, the church did what God never commanded.

This has happened on several occasions in many denominations. For instance, according to the Roman Catholic Church, Joan of Arc was excommunicated and burned at the stake only to be made a saint many years later.

The most famous example of this in the Protestant movement was when Luther was unilaterally excommunicated by Pope Leo X when the latter ignored the to-be reformer’s historic right to a council. Tim Enloe documents this here:
http://www.timenloe.net/original/ecclesiologyoneveofreformation.pdf]

5 comments:

orthodox said...

No, that's not generally how Orthodox apply this verse. It's not about what the church does, either in entirety, or among clerics.

What it's about, from Orthodoxy's point of view, is the right of the local priest to bind (or restrict, or bind by laws) or loose (make free, allow, remove restrictions) in enforcing church canons and discipline

And yes, excommunication is one such important issue to bind and loose, in the context, albeit that "whatever you loose" does not restrict itself to only that one issue. The other thing is making a judgement concerning the sins in v15.

Of course, it is this very right of the church to excommunicate as an act binding in heaven that makes protestantism not work. Because no protestant is going accept their own excommunication, they are just going to join a different sect of protestantism. When was the last time a protestant accepted an excommunication as an act bound in heaven? Never.

It's the very fact that the church has the right, bound in heaven, to judge who is in or out of the church, that gives the Church the right to say that protestants are not in communion with herself.

So great, the verse means what you say, proving that protestantism is wrong.

Lvka said...

First of all, Jewish synagogues were headed by presbyters.

The fact that a Synod unendorsed by the faithful is not Ecumenical is shown throughout Church history.

Secondly, if one is excomunicated by a local Church with regard to heresy and/or sinfulness, isn't it rather absurd to think that he's just gonna flee into another one, that suits his tastes better and/or is unaware of his prior conviction by his prior Church? -- I find Your insistance on the word "local" to be devoid of sense.

If a man thinks he's been judged biasly or incorrectly, he has all the right in the world to appeal to the judgement of other Churches. (We see this happening throughout Church history). The problem is that all the members of the Church have one mind in Christ Jesus (St. Paul), so that usually we see these "poor, little, missunderstood souls" convicted by any Church to which appeal was made. (What one particular congregation found heretical and/or sinful the other ones did also ... because the Faith is the same all over).

Lvka said...

Quite frankly, I liked it better before C-tine: in those old days, it was that little piece of ____ we call a heretic that wandered around like a mad, rabbied, vagrant dog, desperately seeking acceptance from Church to Chuch, unable to find it anywhere, being the one to take the pain (only if it was just sadness and/or hurting feet) for holding to his derailed opinions over and against the one mind of the Chuch, which repeatedly and steadfastly condemned him over and over again as with one mouth ...

... but now, after big, bad C-tine corrupted our faith, it's the poor little Bishops, whose feet are the ones hurting ... :-(

Saint and Sinner said...

"Secondly, if one is excomunicated by a local Church with regard to heresy and/or sinfulness, isn't it rather absurd to think that he's just gonna flee into another one, that suits his tastes better and/or is unaware of his prior conviction by his prior Church? -- I find Your insistance on the word "local" to be devoid of sense."

This verse is sometimes used as a proof of the Magesterium's infallibility. My point is that this verse cannot be used for that purpose since the power of infallibility in RCism and EOxy is only invested in the congregate of the universal church, but here, the local congregation is said to have it. The next two verses (not covered here) go even farther and give this power to individuals.

Secondly, I can't help the fact that in America we have religious liberty to allow churches to accept heretics and the wicked. [Kind of like when Hippolytus condemned Pope Callistus :)] I condemn those churches that do, but I'd rather have religious liberty than totalitarianism.

Thirdly, when was the last time you heard of the Roman Catholic Church excommunicate a mafia Don? An abortion supporting politician? The conservative Protestant churches got rid of our liberals back in the early twentieth century. Your church has not only kept them, they are at the height of power.

"... but now, after big, bad C-tine corrupted our faith, it's the poor little Bishops, whose feet are the ones hurting ... :-("

This is a straw-man. I never said (and nor do I believe) that it was Constantine that corrupted the one true orthodox catholic faith. This happened over many centuries and it came from pagan philosophy, culture, and language.

Now that you don't have any real arguments, you're just getting irrational.

Lvka said...

So, if the "one of you" spoken of in Matthew is/are actually "two or three", and against these come other "two or three" ... then what? :-)

And this is NOT given to individuals: individuals can never constitute two or three. Two/three individuals are "you and I [and him]"; never "we". The Lord's Prayer is not meant for individuals: "OUR Father".

-------------------------
When Christ said two or three, the meaning is a qualitative one as well, and not just merely a cantitative one: i.e., unity in plurality should be sought [according to the Image of The One in Unity-in-Plurality in Heaven]: let me explain:

-- these innitially ONE person in Matthew doesn't say : "I condemned you, and that's it!" -- rather what he does is to go and find at least a minimal plurality to support him ... and only AFTER he DOES indeed find such a plurality (i.e., he realises that he's *not* the *only* one to think that the other one's opinion is derailed from Apostolic preaching and teaching), does he go on and reproof the STILL *one* man, of his strange teaching and/or way of life.

-- now, when these two or three see that that *one* STILL doesn't submit to >their< voice, they don't say: "we condemn you, and that's it!" -- rather, they seek confirmation from the Church --
because of the possibility that they (two, three) might stand ALONE in that counter-teaching, and maybe it is they that are the ONE group of persons to think like that ... maybe the "one" that >they< were trying to reproof is actually doing nothing else but to submit to the Teaching of the entire Church, ... the entire Church, minus these alone-standing rebellious group of two or three!
:-)

(THIS situation would be ironic now, wouldn't it? --> it's just like in that joke with the high-way patrol car that receives a notification: "hey, guys, there's A CAR on the street that you're surveiling, that goes in counter-sense!" --> to which the police-men reply: "JUST ONE? There are dozens, ... nay, even hundreds!")
:-))

-- so, far from stopping there, they go further and beyond, to the Church. -- just like the innitial one didn't stop at himself alone condemning the "outsider", but sought plurality, so this plurality in its turn, seeks an even greater consent : that of the entire congregation.

-- now, IF the "outsider" STILL thinks he's being done wrong, he may chose to plea for an even wider tribunal, consisting of the representaives of other neighbouring congregations as well. When even THIS is not enough, he may be judged by the representatives of the entire number of congregations from his own fatherland. (the Patriarchy). When not even THIS satisfies him, he may ne judged by an Ecumenical Synod. WHEN NOT EVEN THIS fulfills his desire, ... then there's nothing else that he can do. :-(

-- God's Trinitarian Existence in self-less and self-giving Love teaches us that self-sufficiency is from the devil.


No one man is an island for himself. No one congregation is an island for herself. No one Bishoprick is an island for itself (e.g., in order to ordain another Bishop, you need two or three Bishops).

The sky is the limit.

We are the Body of Christ and members all in part. Christ is God and fills the Universe. The NEW Universe which He created is His Body, the Church.

-------------------------
We think of man as microcosmos and of the Universe as Macrocosmos; but with the Incarnation of the infinite God in Christ Jesus, it is man who is now the Macrocosmos, and the Universe (which in all its enormity was unable to contain God) who finds itself to be the Microcosmons. :-)

Now, at the creation of the World, in the O.T., God does A QUITE A LOT of discrimination and distinction and separation:

- Day from Night; and Light from Darkness;
- the waters above from those below; Heaven and Earth;
- the dry land from the seas;
- the Sun and the Moon;
- the fishes of the seas from the fowls of the air;
- Man from the animals;
- rest from labour;
- good from evil; (: the Tree of Knowledge)
- life from death; (: the Tree of Life)
- man from woman;
- etc.

Now, at the re-creation of the World, in the N.T., the same God distinguishes and separates two oposing and antithetical entities, leading the New Israel, which is the Church of the Living God, through the middle of them ... just like he did with the Old Israel in the days of Moses, at the Red Sea, leading them through the two oposing walls of water gathered at each side: left and right, and making His People walk through their middle:

- Paganism and Judaism;
- Gnostics and Judaizers;
- Sabellianism and Tritheism;
- Nestorianism and Monophysism;
- Pelagianism and Augustinianism;
- Iconoclasm and Idolatry;
- Catholicism and Protestantism;
- superstition and skepticism;
- etc.