In the last video, we saw how the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has distorted the meaning of Matthew 18:15-17 in a ludicrous attempt to make it appear to support their judicial system, based on the Pharisaical system with its ultimate punishment of shunning, which is a form of social death, though sometimes it drives people to literal death.

The question remains, what did Jesus mean when he spoke the words recorded at Matthew 18:15-17? Was he setting up a new judicial system? Was he telling his listeners that they should shun anyone who sins? How can we know for sure? Do we need to rely on men to tell us what Jesus wants us to do?

Some time ago, I produced a video titled “Learning to Fish.” It was based on the saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”

That video introduced the Bible study method known as exegesis. Learning about exegesis was a true Godsend for me, because it freed me from a dependency on the interpretations of religious leaders. As the years have progressed, I’ve come to refine my understanding of the techniques of exegetical study. If the term is new to you, it simply refers to the critical study of Scripture in order to draw out its truth, instead of imposing our own view and preconceived bias onto God’s Word.

So let’s now apply exegetical techniques to our study of Jesus’ instructions to us at Matthew 18:15-17 which the publications of the Watch Tower Society totally misconstrue to support their disfellowshipping doctrine and policies.

I’m going to read it as rendered in the New World Translation, but don’t worry, we’ll be consulting multiple Bible translations before we’re done.

“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. 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.” (Matthew 18:15-17 NWT)

You will notice that we’ve underlined certain terms. Why? Because before we can start understanding the meaning of any Bible passage, we must understand the terms used. If our understanding of the meaning of a word or term is wrong, then we are bound to draw an erroneous conclusion.

Even Bible translators are guilty of doing this. For example, if you go to and look at the way the majority of translations render verse 17, you’ll find that almost all use the word “church” where the New World Translation uses “congregation.” The problem that creates is that nowadays, when you say “church,” people immediately think you’re talking about a particular religion or a location or building.

Even the New World Translation’s use of the word “congregation” carries with it the connotation of some form of ecclesiastical hierarchy, particularly in the shape of an elder body. So we have to be very careful not to jump to conclusions. And there is no reason for us to do so since we now have many valuable Bible tools at our fingertips. For example, has an Interlinear which reveals that the word in Greek is ekklesia. According to Strong’s Concordance, also available through the website, that word refers to an assembly of believers and applies to a community of people called out of the world by God.

Here are two versions that render verse 17 without any religious hierarchical connotation or connection.

“But if he will not hear them, tell the assembly, and if he does not hear the assembly, let him be to you as a tax gatherer and as a heathen.” (Matthew 18:17 Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

“If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17 GOD’S WORD Translation)

So when Jesus says to put the sinner before the congregation, he isn’t implying that we should take the sinner to a priest, a minister, or any religious authority, like a body of elders. He means what he says, that we should bring the person who committed the sin before the entire assembly of believers. What else could he mean?

If we are exercising exegesis properly, we will now look for cross references that provide confirmation. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about one of their members whose sin was so notorious that even the pagans were offended by it, was his letter addressed to the body of elders? Was it marked confidential eyes only? No, the letter was addressed to the entire congregation, and it was up to the congregation members to deal with the situation as a group. For example, when the issue of circumcision came up among the gentile believers in Galatia, Paul and others were dispatched to the congregation in Jerusalem to resolve the question (Galatians 2:1-3).

Did Paul meet only with the body of Elders in Jerusalem? Were only the apostles and older men involved in the final decision? To answer these questions, let’s look at the account in the 15th chapter of Acts.

“They indeed, then, having been sent forward by the assembly [ekklesia], were passing through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the nations, and they were causing great joy to all the brethren. And having come to Jerusalem, they were received by the assembly [ekklesia], and the apostles, and the elders, they declared also as many things as God did with them;” (Acts 15:3, 4 Young’s Literal Translation)

“Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly [ekklesia], chosen men out of themselves to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas…” (Acts 15:22 Literal Standard Version)

Now that we have let the Scriptures answer these questions, we know that the answer is that the whole assembly was involved in dealing with the problem of the Judaizers. These Jewish Christians were trying to corrupt the newly formed congregation at Galatia by insisting that the Christians return to the works of the Mosaic Law as the means of salvation.

As we think exegetically about the establishment of the Christian congregation, we understand that an essential part of Jesus and the apostles’ ministry was to unite those called by God, those who were anointed by the holy spirit.

As Peter said: “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you…—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” (Acts 2:39)

And John said, “and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” (John 11:52) 

As Paul later wrote: “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Corinthians 1:2 New Living Translation)

Further evidence that the ekklesia Jesus speaks of is made up of his disciples, is his use of the word “brother.” Jesus says, “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin…”

Who did Jesus consider to be a brother. Again, we don’t assume, but we let the Bible define the term. Doing a search on all occurrences of the word “brother” provides the answer.

“While Jesus was still speaking to the crowds, His mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to Him. Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” (Matthew 12:46 New Living Translation)

“But Jesus replied, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:47-50 BSB)

Referring back to our exegetical study of Matthew 18:17, the next term we have to define is “sin.” What constitutes a sin? In this verse Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples, but he does reveal such things to them through his apostles. Paul tells the Galatians:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT)

Notice that the apostle ends with “and things like these.”  Why doesn’t he just spell it out and give us a full and exhaustive list of sins like the secret JW elders’ manual does? That’s their law book, ironically titled, Shepherd the Flock of God. It goes on for pages and pages (in a legalistic Pharisaical manner) defining and refining what constitutes a sin within the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why doesn’t Jesus do the same by means of the inspired writers of the Christian Scriptures?

He doesn’t do that because we are under the law of Christ, the law of love. We seek what is best for each one of our brothers and sisters, whether they are the one committing the sin, or the one being affected by it. The religions of Christendom don’t understand the law (love) of God. Some individual Christians—strands of wheat in a field of weeds—do understand love, but the religious ecclesiastical hierarchies that have been built up in the name of Christ, do not. Understanding the love of the Christ allows us to recognize what is sin, because sin is the opposite of love. It’s really that simple:

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God….Anyone born of God refuses to practice sin, because God’s seed abides in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this the children of God are distinguished from the children of the devil: Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:1, 9, 10 BSB)

To Love, then, is to obey God because God is love (1 John 4:8). Sin is missing the mark by not obeying God.

“And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments.” (1 John 5:1-2 NLT) 

But hold on! Is Jesus telling us that if one of the assembly of believers has committed a murder, or has sexually abused a child, that all he needs to do is repent and all is well? We can just forgive and forget? Give him a free pass?

Is he saying that if you know your brother has committed not just a sin, but a sin that constitutes a crime, that you can go to him privately, get him to repent, and leave it at that?

Are we jumping to conclusions here?  Who said anything about forgiving your brother? Who said anything about repentance? Isn’t it interesting how we can slide right into a conclusion without even realizing that we are putting words into Jesus’ mouth. Let’s look at it again. I’ve underlined the relevant phrase:

“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. 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.” (Matthew 18:15-17 NWT)

Nothing there about repentance and forgiveness.  “Oh, sure, but that’s implied,” you say. Sure, but that’s not the sum total, is it?

King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and when she became pregnant, he conspired to cover it up. When that failed, he then conspired to have her husband killed so that he could marry her and conceal his sin.  Nathan came to him privately and revealed his sin.  David listened to him. He repented but there were consequences.  He was punished by God.

Jesus is not giving us a means to cover up serious sins and crimes like rape and child sexual abuse. He is giving us a way to save our brother or sister from losing out on life. If they listen to us, then they must do what is necessary to put things right, which could involve going to the authorities, God’s minister, and confessing to a crime and accepting the punishment such as going to jail for raping a child.

Jesus Christ is not providing the Christian community with the foundation of a judicial system. Israel had a judicial system because they were a nation with their own set of laws.  Christians do not constitute a nation in that sense. We are subject to the laws of the land in which we live. That is why Romans 13:1-7 was written for us.

It took me a long while to realize this because I was still being influenced by assumptions I’d been indoctrinated with as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I knew the judicial system of JWs was wrong, but I still thought that Matthew 18:15-17 was the basis of a Christian judicial system. The problem is that thinking of Jesus’ words as the basis of a judicial system easily leads to legalism and a judiciary—courts and judges; men in position of power to pass severe life-altering judgments on others.

Don’t think that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones creating a judiciary within their religion.

Remember that the original Greek manuscripts were written without chapter breaks and verse numbers—and this is important—without paragraph breaks. What is a paragraph in our modern language? It is a method for marking the start of a new thought.

Every Bible translation I scanned on makes Matthew 18:15 the start of a new paragraph, as if it is a new thought. Yet, the Greek begins with a connective word, a conjunction, like “moreover” or “therefore,” which many translations fail to render.

Now look at what happens to your perception of Jesus’ words when we include the context, use the conjunction, and avoid the paragraph break.

(Matthew 18:12-17

“What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep, but one of them strays, won’t he leave the 99 and search in the mountains for the one who’s strayed? ‘Then, if he happens to find it, I tell you, he’ll be happier over that one than over the 99 that didn’t stray! ‘So it is with my Father in the heavens… He doesn’t want even one of these little ones to perish. Therefore, if your brother should fail in some way, take him aside and discuss it between you and him alone; then if he listens to you, you’ll have won over your brother. ‘But if he doesn’t listen, you should bring along one or two others, so that whatever is said [by him] can be proven by the mouths of two or three witnesses. However, if he refuses to listen even to them, you should speak to the congregation. And if he refuses to listen to even the congregation, let him become as a gentile or as a tax collector among you.”

I don’t get the basis for a judicial system from that. Do you? No, what we see here is a way of saving a stray sheep. A way of exercising the love of Christ in doing what we must to save a brother or sister from being lost to God.

When Jesus says, “if [the sinner] listens to you, you have won over brother,” he is stating the goal of this whole procedure. But by listening to you, the sinner will be listening to all you have to say. If he has committed a really serious sin, a crime even, then you will be telling him what he needs to do to put things right. That might even be going to the authorities and confessing. It might be making restitution to the injured parties. I mean, there could be a host of situations ranging from the petty to the truly heinous, and each situation would require its own solution.

So let’s review what we’ve discovered so far. At Matthew 18, Jesus is addressing his disciples, who would soon become adopted children of God.  He is not setting up a judicial system. Instead, he is telling them to act as a family, and if one of their spiritual siblings, a fellow child of God, sins, they must follow this procedure to restore that Christian back into God’s grace. But what if that brother or sister won’t listen to reason? Even if the entire congregation gathers to bear witness that he or she is doing wrong, what if they turn a deaf ear? What to do then? Jesus says that the assembly of believers must view the sinner as a Jew would view a man of the nations, a Gentile, or as they would view a tax collector.

But what does that imply? We won’t jump to conclusions. Let’s let the Bible reveal the meaning of Jesus’ words, and that will be the subject of our next video.

Thank you for your support. It helps us to keep spreading the word.

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Great analysis. I do have to place a sidenote to the nation of Israel having their own set of laws. They were having their own set of laws until they were taken captive to Nineveh/Babylon. However, their return did not put them back to being an independent nation. Rather, they became a vasal state – having a great degree of autonomy, but still under the ultimate rule of another human government. That remained the case when Jesus was around, and was the reason why the Jews had to involve Pilate, the Roman governor, to get Jesus killed. The Romans had… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by Ad_Lang

Thank you Eric,

But I find it is much easier to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us – Isaiah 55.


I’ve always found it easiest not to be deceived by men or women by staying out of the Kingdom Halls and the Churches. They all should have signs posted on the front doors saying: “Enter at your own risk!”

Psalmbee (Ph 1:27)


Thank you!!!

Leonardo Josephus

hi Eric. It is all so simple and logical, and really well explained. You have shown us that what Jesus said can be applied in a loving way with no compromises as to what is the right thing to do. Why could I not see this before seeing the light ? Probably because i was like many, looking for rules, and in doing so I was heavily influenced by the interpretation of the JW organisation. I am so grateful that you have helped us to think and, hopefully, do what is right. We do not need rules. We just need… Read more »

Leonardo Josephus

Indeed it is. And its the key to understanding everything that Jesus did and what he said, although I find some things earlier in the Bible harder to equate with love. Truly, though, Jesus is our role model.


Hola Eric   Acabo de terminar de leer tu libro y me pareció muy bueno , de hecho me alegro ver que en varios asuntos hemos concluido lo mismo sin siquiera conocernos Un ejemplo es la participación en la conmemoración y el no centrarse en el lugar Hay sin embargo algunos puntos de tipos y antitipos que quizás algún día te pregunte cuando los trates Sobre lo que escribiste hoy ,estoy de acuerdo que el sistema actual para tratar pecados en la congregación está bastante mal. De hecho se utiliza para echar al que no concuerda con las ideas del cuerpo… Read more »

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.