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Fixing Fables: Matthew 18:20

“. . . where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”

We are going to deal with this passage to clear up a common misuse of it by many.  If you have been a Christian for any length of time you likely heard this passage quoted in one way or another.

The problem is seldom is it kept in its context, and by doing so it becomes its own little prooftext for all sorts of bad theology and practice. In fact, it is used to cover sinful practices, sometimes intentionally and other times in ignorance.

So let’s settle in for a few minutes while we fix this fable.

How it is used:

One common way is in a mystical sense. 

What we mean by this is that the focus is on the last part of the verse where it says, “there I am in their midst.”

So, in certain circles the gathering of 2-3 people invoke the name of Jesus. Essentially, they turn it into a Christianized form of summoning. Sort of like summoning a demon or spirit, but this time they are summoning Jesus for a special time of communing.

The argument is that if 2-3 are gathering in His name, then He promises to come to be among them.

Many will also think when 2 or 3 are gathered, prayer is more powerfully heard by Jesus. So, if Jesus is to hear your prayer and do something on your behalf, it is best to gather a group for prayer.

The most common is that 2-3 people who are saved is what is needed for a church to exist. 

A lot of home churches use this, though not all.

It is also used to excuse not going to any church consistently as long as you get together with other people who are Christians 

The coronavirus has brought this out in a new way as well.  Guys like John MacArthur and many others are saying that the church needs to gather.  Invariably, a person will start talking about how all you need is 2-3 gathered, to be “going to church.” 

This is also used by many when they stopped gathering and turned their church into many small groups, calling them churches (or “micro churches”). Few ever asked if each of those new so-called churches were led by at least one biblically qualified elder.

So the most common way this is used, is simply to say that if 2-3 Christians have gathered for some purpose related to bible study, some sort of worship or prayer, that Jesus is there.  It is the bare minimum needed to be a church.

But is that what is being taught in this passage? What does it actually say?

We did not actually quote the whole verse when we read it at the beginning.  Here is the whole verse, “for where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20)

One little word left out but it is important:  “For.”

It points us backward to the prior verses and puts it into its proper context.

That context is church discipline as laid out by Jesus starting in verse 14. It is actually a chiastic structure so the phrase about 2-3 gathered in the name of Christ is connected to vs 16 where you have 2-3 witnesses to confirm the facts.

It helps to understand that the phrase “in my Name” speaks of doing something in accordance to Christ’s will and according to His character.

Because it is Jesus commanding the church to practice church discipline those participating can have confidence because they are not doing it alone, Christ is present and His blessing is upon their obedience.

It also destroys the common complaint made by people, especially those being --confronted, that this is not loving and Jesus wouldn’t do this.


We will continue to do these little episodes in an effort to do our part in the task of handling accurately the Word of truth.  

If you have a passage you have always wondered about, or one that you struggle with in regards to a theological position, send the reference to us and we will add it to our list.

Continue to walk by faith, trusting our Lord and Savior.


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