It was in a recent ad, put out by a Christian publisher. Sadly, it modeled a very common misreading of a passage. You’ve probably heard the verse or seen it quoted in various places.
Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am” (Matthew 18:18).
The ad was for a women’s study Bible and was encouraging Christian women to meet together and read the Word. So, what’s the problem? Isn’t it a good thing to encourage Bible reading? Wouldn’t it be right to encourage others to read Scripture by quoting Scripture?
The problem has to do with what Jesus meant when He said those words. He actually meant something–and it doesn’t appear that He was talking about getting together with a few other Christians to read the Bible.
Here’s the bigger context (Matthew 18: 15-22):
If your brother sins against you, go and confront him privately. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, regard him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them.”
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!”
Did you notice? Jesus was addressing the issue of confronting a fellow follower of Jesus about his or her sin. The passage begins with the issue of sin and ends with Peter’s question about forgiveness. This is the context in which Matthew 18:18 is found. Did you also notice the multiple mentions of “two or three”?
In the Old Testament, a charge against someone could only be considered legitimate if there were two or three witnesses to the charge (Deuteronomy 19:15). So, for Jesus to refer to “where two or three gather together in [His] name,” He is not speaking about getting together for a Bible study, but about confronting a brother or sister about their sin.
So, what is the problem of “using” this verse as if it was referring to meeting in a Bible study? Three things:
- We model a poor handling of Scripture. Taking a verse out of its context is so common it’s better not to model doing that.
- We miss what is really being discussed in the passage. By misreading this single verse, we can easily overlook what the passage is about.
- We misrepresent Jesus’ words. It is true that Jesus is always with us; He said He would never leave His followers (Matthew 28:20; John 14:18). But that’s not the point He was making in Matthew 18:18. I don’t like it when people misconstrue what I say. It’s probably best not to misconstrue what Jesus said.