In preparing the last post on disfellowshipping, I spent a good deal of time working out how to apply the procedures Jesus gave us at Matthew 18:15-17 based on the rendering of the NWT, specifically the opening words: “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin…” I was excited to think that this was the process for dealing with sin in the congregation, not just sins of a personal nature as we are taught, but sin in general. I found it very satisfying to think that Jesus gave us this one, simple three-step process to deal with wrongdoers, and that we needed nothing more. No secret three-man committees, no complex elders rule book, no extensive Bethel Service Desk archive. Just one process to handle virtually all contingencies.
You may imagine my disappointment when I later reviewed the interlinear rendering of verse 15 and learned that the words eis se (“against you”) had been omitted by the NWT translation committee—meaning Fred Franz. This meant that there was no specific instruction on how to deal with sins of a non-personal nature; something that seemed odd, since it meant that Jesus left us without specific direction. Still, not wanting to go beyond the things written, I had to adjust the article. So it was with some surprise—a pleasant surprise to be honest—that I received an adjustment in my thinking from a comment placed by Bobcat on the subject. To quote him, it seems that “the words ‘against you’ are not found in some important early MSS (mainly Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus).”
Therefore, in fairness, I would like to reconsider the discussion with this new understanding as a basis.
Firstly, it occurs to me that the definition of a personal sin serious enough to warrant disfellowshipping (if unresolved) is highly subjective. For example, if a brother slanders your name, there is no doubt that you would consider this a personal sin; a sin against you. Likewise, if your brother defrauded you of money or some possession. However, what if a brother has sex with your wife? Or with your daughter? Would that be a personal sin? There is no doubt that you would take it very personally, likely more so than in the case of slander or fraud. The lines blur. There is a personal aspect to any sin grave enough to merit the attention of the congregation, so where do we draw the line?
Perhaps there is no line to be drawn.
Those who espouse the idea of an ecclesiastical hierarchy have a vested interest in interpreting Matthew 18:15-17 to rule out all but the most inarguable of personal sins. They need that distinction so that they can exert their authority over the brotherhood.
However, since Jesus gave us only one procedure to follow, I’m more inclined to the idea that it was meant to cover all sins. This will, undeniably, undercut the authority of those who presume to rule over us. To that, we say, “Too bad”. We serve at the pleasure of the King, not mortal man.
So let us put this to the test. Let us say that you become aware that a fellow Christian working at the same company as you is having an affair with an unbelieving co-worker. According to our organizational instructions, you are obliged to report this Witness to the elders. It is important to note that there is nothing in the Christian Scriptures requiring you to become an informant. This is strictly an organizational directive. What the Bible says—what Jesus said—is that you should go to him (or her) personally; one on one. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. There is no need to take this further generally speaking because the sinner has repented and stopped committing the sin.
Ah, but what if he’s only fooling you? What if he says he’ll stop, but really keeps on sinning in secret? Well, wouldn’t that be between him and God? If we are going to worry about such eventualities, then we have to start behaving like spiritual policemen. We’ve all seen where that leads.
Of course, if he denies it and there are no other witnesses, you have to leave it at that. However, if there is another witness, you can then move to step two. Again, you can gain your brother and turn him back from sin at this stage. If so, it ends there. He repents to God, is forgiven, and changes his life course. The elders can be involved if they can be of help. But it is not a requirement. They are not needed to dispense forgiveness. That is for Jesus to do. (Mark 2:10)
Now you may be railing against this whole idea. The brother commits fornication, repents to God, stops sinning, and that’s it? Perhaps you feel that something more is needed, some kind of punishment. Perhaps you feel that justice isn’t served unless there is some retribution. A crime has been committed and so there has to be a sentence of punishment—something so as not to trivialize the sin. It is thinking like this that gives birth to the idea of retribution. In its most extreme incarnation, it produced the doctrine of hellfire. Some Christians revel in this belief. They are so frustrated by the wrongs done to them, that they get great satisfaction in imagining those who have victimized them writhing in pain for all eternity. I have known people like this. They get very upset if you try to take Hellfire away from them.
There is a reason that Jehovah says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” (Romans 12:19) Frankly, we miserable humans are not up to the task. We will lose ourselves if we attempt to tread on God’s turf in this regard. In a way, our Organization has done this. I remember a good friend of mine who was the congregation servant before the elder arrangement came into being. He was the kind of man who liked to put the cat among the pigeons. When I was made an elder in the 1970s, he gave me a booklet that had been discontinued, but which was formerly given to all congregation servants. It spelled out precise guidelines for how long someone had to remain disfellowshipped based on his/her sin. A year for this, a minimum of two years for that, etc. I got angry just reading it. (I only wish I had kept it, but it someone still has an original, please do a scan and e-mail me a copy.)
The fact is, we still do this to some extent. There is a de facto minimum time that one has to remain disfellowshipped. If the elders reinstate a fornicator in less than a year, they’ll get a letter from the branch office asking for an explanation to justify the action. No one wants to get a letter like that from the branch, so the next time, they’ll be likely to extend the sentence to at least a year. On the other hand, elders who leave the man out for two or three years will never be questioned.
If a married couple get divorced and there is reason to believe that they staged the adultery to give each a scriptural basis to remarry, the direction we get—always verbal, never in writing—is to not reinstate too quickly so as not to give others the idea they can do likewise and get off easy.
We forget that the judge of all mankind is watching and he will determine what punishment to mete out and what mercy to extend. Doesn’t it come down to a matter of faith in Jehovah and his appointed judge, Jesus Christ?
The fact is that if someone continues to sin, even secretly, the consequences are inevitable. We must reap what we sow. That is the principle laid down by God and as such is immutable. One who persists in sin, thinking he is fooling others, is really fooling himself. Such a course will only lead to a hardening of the heart; to the point that repentance becomes impossible. Paul talked about a conscience that had been seared as if by a branding iron. He also spoke of some who had been given over by God to a disapproved mental state. (1 Timothy 4:2; Romans 1:28)
In any case, it appears that applying Matthew 18:15-17 to all types of sin will work and that it provides the advantage of putting the responsibility for watching out for the best interests of our brother right where it belongs, not with some elite group, but with each one of us.
 Shepherd the Flock of God, copyright 2010, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society.
 As discussed in Be Modest in Walking with God there are some sins with are criminal in nature. Such sins, even if dealt with congregationally, must also be passed on to the superior authorities (“God’s ministers”) out of respect for the divine arrangement.
[…] False! He was speaking of all types of sin, not just those of a personal nature. First, there is nothing to indicate Jesus is speaking of a specific type of sin. Second, if he were only giving us direction to his disciples on handling sins of a personal nature, where is his direction on handling sins of a non-personal nature? Why would he lovingly prepare us to handle less serious sins (as the Organization puts it) and then leave us empty handed when it comes to dealing with more serious sins? (For more information, see Matthew 18 Revisited.) […]
[…] To view the next article in this series, click here. […]
Jesus said, “If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.”
Jesus did not shun a gentile or a tax collector.
That is something the R&F have yet to discern. I once asked an elder that question and all he could say was, “I’ll have to check my WT library and get back to you on that.” I didnt wait for an answer because my next question didn’t have a WT library answer.
(I was too tired to leave a comment last night and haven’t read the other comments yet..) But I looked up those manuscripts you mentioned on the internet last night and came across a site where a guy had done research on them: http://www.deanburgonsociety.org/CriticalTexts/sinaiticus.htm. In a nut shell he says that while the Codex Sinaiticus might be old , it wasn’t the best. It had been corrected by numerous people. He quoted someone called TIschendorf who said he count 14,800 alterations and corrects to it and that ‘on many occasions 10, 20, 30, 40 words are dropped. . .letters, words… Read more »
Hi, comments for verse 15. and 16 as provided by New English Translation: 20tn The Greek term “brother” can mean “fellow believer” or “fellow Christian” (cf. BDAG 18 s.v. ἀδελφός 2.a) whether male or female. It can also refer to siblings, though here it is used in a broader sense to connote familial relationships within the family of God. Therefore, because of the familial connotations, “brother” has been retained in the translation here in preference to the more generic “fellow believer” (“fellow Christian” would be anachronistic in this context). AND 21tc ‡ The earliest and best witnesses lack “against you”… Read more »
I think another aspect to keep in mind is to keep the association healthy. Normally, this duty of choosing association is on the person, parent, head of family. So we can think of the congregation as a group with voluntary membership. If we become members of it, it’s because this group is what we personally feel is good association. Naturally each such group has it’s right to define its own sets of standards for inclusion, and each individual should have the right to choose to want inclusion or to remove itself. If the individual chooses to stay, then he accepts… Read more »
“The other problem, perhaps root cause, is when the association claims it is exclusively equal to the body of Christ, and furthermore claims to speak for God.” Unlike other Christian groups you cannot voluntarily resign from this organization/group without grave consequences. You cannot simply disassociate yourself and maintain even limited contact with others. The cost membership is pledging unwavering faithfulness to the Governing Body vs. Christ. I was shocked recently to learn that there are a series of GB loyalty questions that elders are required to ask when a person is suspected of “Apostasy” . I believe that if the… Read more »
“I was shocked recently to learn that there are a series of GB loyalty questions that elders are required to ask when a person is suspected of “Apostasy”
Can you elaborate on this?
What is your source?
What are the questions?
Yes the questions i had where. If the GB told me to do something would i do it. To which i answered not if i felt it was againt scripture or my conscience. And.have i identified The GB as the faithful slave of matthew 24 v 45. To which i answered i probably have a different viewpoint of that scripture than you do actually my viewpoint was this how can we identify them as a faithful slave when they are only decared as such by jesus in the future. Then it was game over. Shortly after. Kev
I hope this is ok with Meleti ….. BeenMisled I watched a YouTube video the other day that blew my mind. Your questions Kev are almost exactly what the elders asked him. This brother taped his Judicial Meeting with the Elders and defended his beliefs well. I expected the brother to be ranting and angry but he was not. I could not have been more shocked that they were not concerned about doctrine. They only wanted yes or no answers to a series of questions as to whether he believed in the “faithful slave”. I couldn’t sleep that night after… Read more »
Almost like in the Catholic Church: full devotion to the pope…
Hello everyone, Thank you Meleti, Menrov and everyone. You are saying what I believe that Jesus is saying. There is love in showing the tact and diplomacy that Jesus shared in Matt 18:15. The Vulgate kindly gives us where a brother has sinned ‘against thee’. The tact and diplomacy Jesus shared is what I have followed (without realising until now that such a habit has a founding in what Jesus shared with us) for a long time in life – that if someone sins against me, then I try to deal with it with that person. The passage also says… Read more »
(I only wish I had kept it, but it someone still has an original, please do a scan and e-mail me a copy.)
I think this is the booklet you are referring to:
That’s the one! Thank you. Just had a gander at it and felt the blood boiling anew. What a load of…well…you know.
I was baptized before the “Your word Is a Lamp to My Foot” book was released, so I never really had questions to precede except “Was I ready?” Only one person I recall mentioned this Kingdom Service book. I always wanted to peek at it but it was kept out of reach due to its limited printing.
The only thing I can say …we must be very careful not to assume and base our understanding only on just two Manuscripts, it is true the words, “AGAINST YOU,” are omitted in the Sinaitic and Vatican Manuscripts, and by some modern editors, on the personal ground of these editors, that it is a gloss derived from Peter’s question where peter asked Lord, how often will my brother sin AGAINST ME , and I forgive him? (Mat 18:21). But the words are retained by the Vulgate and other high authorities. Without them, the passage becomes one of a general nature,… Read more »
A valid point, Pquin. This is why I raised the issue of what constitutes a personal sin. Any sin a brother commits affects the whole to some degree, so really any sin committed isn’t just against God, but against the Christian community as a whole. The sin of the brother in Corinth was against God but also against the congregation, bringing its good name into disrepute.
Agree that some caution is always required. However, I believe however that sins are in principle always against God as He is the one who determines what a sin is. In other words, if someone commits a sin against a brother, in essence it is still a sin defined by God albeit committed against a brother. The way to tackle sins remains as described by Jesus.
Hermano,recuerda que el señor Jesucristo daba un enfoque diferente a las preguntas que le hacían. Esa es la razón por la que quizá él no utilizaría las mismas palabras en la pregunta de pedro
Good point, Andres. The other factor, as Pquin brings out, is context. Here, I’m not just speaking of the local context, but the larger context that encompasses the whole of Jesus’ words. If we are to accept that Mt 18:15-17 only applies to sins made against a member of the congregation, where is the direction from our Lord on how to handle what the organization likes to call “serious sins”? Given that this is the only direction from Jesus on handling sins within the congregation, we have to conclude that his words apply to all types and degrees of sin.
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian……” We appeal to 1 Cor 5 as a basis for disfellowshipping, however what did Paul mean in verses 9 and 11 when he advised “quit MIXING in company (NWT)…..”, did he mean totally cutting off all communication? The Greek word Paul uses is ‘sunanamignumi’, to mix together (Strong 4874), which means, as some interlinears render it, ‘associate intimately’, Thayer has “to keep company with, be intimate with”, there is no hint that there should be no communication at all. Further at 2 Thess… Read more »
JB, on your scenario I like to say that when someone is a first time offender, I presume one should first ask the reason why this person dumped his trash. But what Jesus wanted to make clear, is that as Christians, we should above all be very forgiving. Only when a person continues his sin because that person does not see his actions as a sin or he does not care if it is, and when the steps have been followed, then a change in behavior from other Christians is expected. That is fully in line with what we read… Read more »
Hi menrov, yes I think I agree on several points. Actually I indeed forgot about mentioning in my example the details such as trying to understand why he dumped the trash and indeed, if he persists doing this … I also agree about being forgiving, as Jesus made it clear that it’s not just “7 times” that we should allow someone for continuing forgiveness. Actually the main thought which I think I didn’t stand out properly is the fact that it’s quite “intuitive”. When we lose a strong common goal with someone, we quite naturally distance from such a person.… Read more »
Yes J B i agree with your point when someone is kicked out it gives an obstacle for any movement in the right direction Remember the pharisees .Why Does you teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners Jesus reply its the ill who need a physician . I can see the counsel at matthew 18 but i think these verses show that there has to be a balance .Theres nothing wrong with encouraging people with patience and love thats what we are supposed to be doing .hebrews 10 v 24 25 The witnesses to me seem to be like a… Read more »
Meleti, I happen to see it this way (regarding the “sin” in general) : If there is a group around a particular interest and common goal, let’s say people having an interest in protecting the nature, etc. Those people do activities together, talk about related subjects, create plans etc. Then one day you see one of the members of the circle dumping trash to a nearby forest. I think, without completely humiliating this person, one would quite naturally “grow cold” of this person and doubt his/her honesty about protecting the nature. I guess inevitably there wouldn’t be a keen interest… Read more »
In addition, I looked at the various English translations of verse 17 (see here: http://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Matthew%2018:17). What I seem to notice is that when in the end, the church / congregation / assembly is informed and involved, it almost seems like ALL or entire church / congregation / assembly should be informed of this brother’s sin(s) and that he refused to hear / listen. If my interpretation is correct, I tend to see what Jesus means with this. Nobody likes that his sin(s) becomes known to others (hence the first 2 steps, which is in private to respect and provide ample… Read more »
It is a far more equitable arrangement. One that works against the abuses of power we’ve seen in Christian churches from the early days of the Catholic Church, right down to our present day congregation. However, it won’t happen in the Organization because it strips a small group of men of their authority. What we have seen lately is a not-so-subtle shift in the authority structure. More authority is being conferred upon the elders and more unquestioning obedience demanded of the rank and file. This is logical, because if the Governing Body want unquestioning obedience, they have to demand it… Read more »
Fully agree and it most unfortunate. On a personal note: as I am not really participating during the meeting, which is a change compared to before, an elder approached me yesterday and asked (rather bluntly) if I am at home tomorrow. I asked why. He said To talk, always good to talk he added. I asked again about what and he replied that he thinks it is not going good with me. Such a reply was to be expected from this elder. Anyway, I told my wife I am not going to meet him as this elder is so into… Read more »
I’m with you on this one, menrov. Just because he wants to “talk” doesn’t mean you have to give him an opportunity. It’s too bad we have to live in fear of what we might say that could incriminiate us, even if it’s only a differing “opinion” from that of the GB..
Though it is true that it might be applied to the whole church/congregation, it is likely not the case. Remember that Jesus was speaking to people who still lived under Mosaic Law, and the word “congregation” (ekklesia) was not use always as a reference of the whole group of people. I found this interesting when reading Leviticus 4:13-15, where there’s an evidente difference of the “assembly” (the whole people) and “the congregation” (the elders of the nation).
correction, I meant to say “the footnote at verse 15 indeed explains that the shorter version (without Against You) is likely in the original text but only found in later mss. (the word NOT is wrong) . sorry
I was about to correct it for you, but it still doesn’t work. Did you mean, “the footnote at verse 15 indeed explains that the shorter version (without “against you”) is likely in the original text, and the “against you” is only found in later MSS”?
Yes Meleti, that is what I meant to say, the shorted version seems correct as the longer version is only found in later mss. Can you correct somehow?
Many thanks and sorry for type. It is unfortunate not being able to correct once posted.
I know. It’s a shortcoming of the WordPress interface which I have yet to find a way around. I’ll make the correction.
Thanks Meleti, such articles make one think and that is exactly what we all always should do: think and understand yourself, develop your own thinking and then convince yourself. I guess I have lacked to do this the last … say 17 years. Anyway, I looked at the verses again and used the NET translation. The footnote at verse 15 indeed explains that the shorter version (without “against you”) is likely in the original text, and the “against you” is only found in later MSS. Here is how NET show these verses and I added the verses 18-21 for completeness… Read more »
“the 2 witness rule as I believe is applied in the organisation is not correct as it is said that 2 or more must have been witnesses of the sin”. Within the Matt 18 context that is correct. However the two witness rule does still apply to those witnessing the sin. See 2 Cor 13:1 which quotes Deut 19:15. Therefore without two or more witnesses the congregation cannot act, however if an accusation is of a criminal nature such an accusation should be reported to the appropriate secular authorities “placed in their relative positions by God” …..” they are God’s… Read more »
Hi Miken. I understand but because Mt 18:16 says to take One.or Two others, not.necessarily it is implied that the one or two others are witness to the sin or become witness to the reaction of the sinner. In line with 2 Cor 1:1, when the one or two additional.person testify what has been discussed, it becomes a fact. But then still the congregation has the chance to convince the sinner (the thrid step). Liketje congregation is not really a witness to the sin but become witness to the reaction. Makes somes sense??
I understand what you are saying, however if the sinner initially denies the sin and during subsequent conversations with two or more witnesses present continues to do so, then he of she cannot be brought before the congregation. Two or more witnesses of the actual sin are required. Jesus as recorded at John 8:17 makes reference to the two witness rule at Deut 17:6 and 19:15.
There have been cases where one party confessed to fornication, while the other party denied it. The confessor was dealt with judicially, the other went free. Of course, Jehovah can see the heart.
Thank you for the articles on disfellowshipping, Meleti. I have so many mixed emotions, I can’t even put them into words right now, other than thank you brother.