Home Church Community

Statement of Beliefs

Contact Us

Search Our Site

Bible Study Resource

Printer Friendly Version

Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Unity and Excommunication

Introduction: Unity, Excommunication, and Essentials Only
Excommunication: Historical Context, the Gospels (Part 1)
Excommunication: the Gospels (Part 2)
Excommunication: Acts and Romans
Excommunication: Corinthians
Excommunication: Galatians
Excommun.: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians
Excommunication: Paul’s Letters to Timothy
Excommunication: Titus, Hebrews, James, Peter’s Epistles
Excommunication: John’s Epistles, Jude, and Revelation
Excommunication: Biblical Assessment
Excommunication: Historical, Logical Assessments, Conclusions

Part Two: Biblical Study
Historical Context: The First Century Jewish Practice of Excommunication
The first thing we will note as we begin our study of the New Testament is that separating from other Christians is part of the existing historical context of first century Judaism.
The fact is first century Jews practiced excommunication. This practice was well-established and it involved removing people from the regular feasts and gatherings of the Jewish synagogue system. John’s gospel refers to this practice in several passages. 

John 9:22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue (656).


John 12:42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (656):


John 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues (656): yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
In each of the above verses the Greek word “aposynagogos” (Strong’s number 656) is used.
656 aposunagogos
from 575 and 4864; TDNT-7:848,1107; adj
AV-be put out of the synagogue + 1096 2, put out of the synagogue + 4160 1; 3
1) excluded from sacred assemblies of Israelites, excommunicated
This Greek word is a compound word. It is formed from the Greek preposition “apo” (575) which indicates separation.
575 apo
a primary particle; preposition
AV-from 393, of 129, out of 48, for 10, off 10, by 9, at 9, in 6, since + 3739 5, on 5, not tr. 16, misc. 31; 671
1) of separation
1a) of local separation, after verbs of motion from a place i.e. of departing, of fleeing, ...
1b) of separation of a part from the whole
1b1) where of a whole some part is taken
1c) of any kind of separation of one thing from another by which the union or fellowship of the two is destroyed
1d) of a state of separation, that is of distance
1d1) physical, of distance of place
1d2) temporal, of distance of time
2) of origin
2a) of the place whence anything is, comes, befalls, is taken
2b) of origin of a cause
In the word “aposunagogos” the Greek preposition “apo” is joined to the New Testament word that is used most often to refer to Jewish synagogues (4864.) Besides the Temple, the synagogues were the primary and regular place of religious gatherings and fellowship in Jewish communities throughout the ancient world. As these passages in John indicate, to be put out of the synagogue was a very grave issue. People sought to avoid excommunication because to be excommunicated meant that you were outside of the community and without contact with God’s people. Furthermore, because it involved exclusion from the Jewish sacred assemblies, it automatically entailed a loss of access to the ritual sacrifices associated with divine forgiveness and acceptance.
We can compare the meaning of the Greek word “synagogue” (Strong’s number 4864) with the meaning of the similar New Testament term “church.” Below is the definition of the Greek word “synagogue.”
4864 sunagoge
from (the reduplicated form of) 4863; TDNT-7:798,1108; n f
AV-synagogue 55, congregation 1, assembly 1; 57
1) a bringing together, gathering (as of fruits), a contracting
2) in the NT, an assembling together of men, an assembly of men
3) a synagogue
3a) an assembly of Jews formally gathered together to offer prayers and listen to the reading and expositions of the scriptures; assemblies of that sort were held every sabbath and feast day, afterwards also on the second and fifth days of every week; name transferred to an assembly of Christians formally gathered together for religious purposes
3b) the buildings where those solemn Jewish assemblies are held. Synagogues seem to date their origin from the Babylonian exile. In the times of Jesus and the apostles every town, not only in Palestine, but also among the Gentiles if it contained a considerable number of Jewish inhabitants, had at least one synagogue, the larger towns several or even many. These were also used for trials and inflicting punishment.
For Synonyms see entry 5897
As we can see the Greek word synagogue is a generic term meaning “gathering.” In the historic context, this term came to be a technical term used to refer to an assembly for religious purposes. But more importantly we can see from definition 3a (above) that the term synagogue is not used exclusively in the New Testament to refer to (non-Christian) Jewish gatherings. Instead, the New Testament also uses the term synagogue to refer to the gatherings of Jesus’ Jewish and Gentile followers, or more commonly, Christians.
For comparison, below is the definition for the Greek word “ekklesia,” the New Testament word for “church.”
1577 ekklesia
from a compound of 1537 and a derivative of 2564; TDNT-3:501,394; n f
AV-church 115, assembly 3; 118
1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly
1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating
1b) the assembly of the Israelites
1c) any gathering or throng of men assembled by chance, tumultuously
1d) in a Christian sense
1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting
1d2) a company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order’s sake
1d3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body
1d4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth
1d5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven
For Synonyms see entry 5897
We can see the similarities that exist between synagogue and “ekklesia.” Both are simply assemblies of people. The New Testament uses both of these words to refer to the religious gatherings of non-Christian Jews as well as followers of Christ (whether Jew or Gentile.) Interestingly enough, as definition 1b) of “ekklesia” points out, the Greek word for church is used throughout the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and even occasionally in the New Testament as a reference to Old Testament Israel. (Examples of New Testament uses of “ekklesia” for Old Testament Israel are found in Acts 7:38 and Hebrews 2:12.)
The interchangeable and related nature of synagogue and church (“ekklesia”) is also demonstrated by the fact that both definitions link to the same list of synonyms under the lexicon entry 5897. Below is that synonym entry, where we find both synagogue (4864) and “ekklesia” (1577) listed side by side as Greek words for “assembly, church.”
5897 Assembly, Church.
See definition for sunagwgh 4864 [synagogue]
See definition for ekklhsia 1577 [church]
We can see that the historical context for excommunication in the New Testament included the ancient Jewish practice of excommunication. In this first-century, Jewish setting, excommunication was a severe and significant measure which separated someone from the fellowship gatherings of God’s people. These facts are summarized in the Jewish Encyclopedia’s article on excommunication.
ExcommunicationThe highest ecclesiastical censure, the exclusion of a person from the religious community, which among the Jews meant a practical prohibition of all intercourse with society. For the etymology of the Hebrew terms used in this connection and for a clear exposition of the historical development and of the ethical significance of this institution see Anathema and Ban. Although developed from the Biblical ban, excommunication, as employed by the Rabbis during Talmudic times and during the Middle Ages, is really a rabbinic institution, its object being to preserve the solidarity of the nation and strengthen the authority of the Synagogue by enforcing obedience to its mandates. – Jewish Encyclopedia
Ban – Post-Exilic Ban. In post-exilic times…it was employed as a means of ecclesiastical discipline to keep the community clear of undesirable, semi-heathenish elements…those that would not participate in the assembly of the children of the captivity, had, according to the counsel of the princes and elders, all their substance devoted (A. V. "forfeited"), and were themselves separated from the community (Ezra x. 8). Here the Ban, or herem, assumed a new meaning: it meant no longer destruction, but confiscation of goods, and excommunication—possibly exposure to starvation ("shammatta"; see Anathema)—of the person; see Banishment, Excommunication. – Jewish Encyclopedia
We should also note that according to the Jewish Encyclopedia the purpose of excommunication was to preserve unity and solidarity among God’s people in regard to keeping what they felt were God’s divinely given teachings or mandates. Likewise, excommunication was designed to prevent ungodly practices and views from infiltrating the community.
Jewish Encyclopedia also informs us of the dire consequences incurred by those who had been excommunicated. The application of excommunication meant a “practical prohibition of all intercourse with society.” This was undoubtedly a very severe disciplinary action. We can see why people in the gospels are depicted as having a serious aversion to being excommunicated. It was this concept and this practice that Jesus and his disciples knew from their first century Jewish culture. Our examination of Jesus and the apostles teaching later in this study will have to determine whether Jesus and his apostles maintained these harsh practices or instead mitigated or abandoned them.
Before we conclude this section, we should cover one other aspect of the historical context of first century Judaism. We have already seen several instances from John’s gospel where the Jewish authorities threatened excommunication.

John 9:22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue (656).


John 12:42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (656):


John 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues (656): yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.
In each of these cases, the cause of excommunication was doctrinal error. Specifically, we see that a person could be excommunicated for believing that Jesus was the Christ. This belief was contrary to the position held by the Jewish leadership. The Jewish leadership was comprised of men from two main groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Together these two groups ruled the chief judiciary body of the Jews known as the Sanhedrin.
4892 sunedrion
from a presumed derivative of a compound of 4862 and the base of 1476; TDNT-7:860,1115; n n
AV-council 22; 22
1) any assembly (esp. of magistrates, judges, ambassadors), whether convened to deliberate or pass judgment
2) any session or assembly or people deliberating or adjudicating
2a) the Sanhedrin, the great council at Jerusalem, consisting of the seventy one members, viz. scribes, elders, prominent members of the high priestly families and the high priest, the president of the assembly. The most important causes were brought before this tribunal, inasmuch as the Roman rulers of Judaea had left to it the power of trying such cases, and also of pronouncing sentence of death, with the limitation that a capital sentence pronounced by the Sanhedrin was not valid unless it was confirmed by the Roman procurator.
2b) a smaller tribunal or council which every Jewish town had for the decision of less important cases.
Matthew 26:57 And they that had laid hold on Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. 58 But Peter followed him afar off unto the high priest’s palace, and went in, and sat with the servants, to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council (4892), sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
Mark 14:53 And they led Jesus away to the high priest: and with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. 54 And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire. 55 And the chief priests and all the council (4892) sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none…15:1 And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council (4892), and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.
Luke 22:66 And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led him into their council (4892), saying,
John 11:47 Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council (4892), and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.
Acts 5:21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council (4892) together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought...27  And when they had brought them, they set them before the council (4892): and the high priest asked them,…34 Then stood there up one in the council (4892), a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
Acts 6:12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council (4892),
In Acts 23, the Sanhedrin was convened to hear the case of Paul. As this account shows, the Pharisees and Sadducees had very different opinions on various important theological issues. These issues included: the existence of angels and spirits as well as the resurrection of the dead. (The Pharisees and Sadducees also disagreed with one another on the authority of oral tradition and how to apply Mosaic Law to their contemporary issues. For more on the Pharisees and Sadducees please read our article entitled “Being Like the Pharisees.”)
Acts 22:30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council (4892) to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them. 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council (4992), said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. 3 Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? 4 And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? 5 Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. 6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council (4892), Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. 7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension (4714) between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided (4977). 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. 9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God. 10 And when there arose a great dissension (4714), the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
Here in Acts 23, we see that Paul describes differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees with the words “dissension” and “divided.” The Greek word translated as “dissension” is “stasis” (Strong’s number 4714.) The Greek word translated as “divided” is the verb “schizo” (4977.)
4714 stasis
from the base of 2476; TDNT-7:568,1070; n f
AV-sedition 3, dissension 3, insurrection 1, uproar 1, standing 1; 9
1) a standing, station, state
2) an insurrection
3) strife, insurrection
4977 schizo
apparently a primary verb; TDNT-7:959,1130; v
AV-rend 5, divide 2, open 1, break 1, make a rent 1; 10
1) to cleave, cleave asunder, rend
2) to divide by rending
3) to split into factions, be divided
From the Greek verb “schizo” comes the related noun “schisma” (4978.)
4978 schisma
from 4977; TDNT-7:963,1130; n n
AV-division 5, rent 2, schism 1; 8
1) a rent
2) metaph. a division, dissension
For Synonyms see entry 5916
From the Greek word “schisma” we get the English word “schism” which is used to refer to a formal division or separation among church bodies. In fact, the word schism describes something very similar to denomination division.
1: division, separation; also : discord, disharmony <a schism between political parties>
2a: formal division in or separation from a church or religious body
2b: the offense of promoting schism
- Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary, merriam-webster.com
The Greek word “schisma” is used on several occasions in the New Testament including John’s Gospel where it is used to refer to disagreements and differing opinions the people had about Jesus and his teaching.
John 7:43 So there was a division (4978) among the people because of him.
John 9:16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division (4978) among them.
John 10:19 There was a division (4978) therefore again among the Jews for these sayings.
Like “schisma,” the New Testament uses “schizo” to refer to differing opinions and points of view.
Acts 14:4 But the multitude of the city was divided (4977): and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles.
According to New Testament Greek lexicons, the word “schisma” (4978) is synonymous with the Greek word “hairesis” (139.)
5916 Schism.
See definition for schisma 4978
See definition for hairesis 139
scisma is actual division, separation.
airesiv is rather the separating tendency, so it is really more fundamental than scisma.
The Greek word “hairesis” (139) is commonly translated as “sect” or “heresy.” It too refers to a sectarian division that arises from a difference of opinion on religious matters.
139 hairesis
from 138; TDNT-1:180,27; n f
AV-sect 5, heresy 4; 9
1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen
4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party)
4a) of the Sadducees
4b) of the Pharisees
4c) of the Christians
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims
For Synonyms see entry 5916
In the New Testament the Greek word “hairesis” is first used to refer to Jewish sects like the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
Acts 5:17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect (139) of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
Acts 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect (139) of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
Acts 26:5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect (139) of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
Today when we here the word heresy we think of a grave doctrinal error or false teaching concerning some essential doctrine. This perception is created by our modern experience in a denominational church system and the prevalence of an Essentials Only View of Christian doctrine. However, we can see from these biblical, linguistic, and historical considerations that in the New Testament the word heresy simply referred to sectarian doctrinal differences of opinion on any theological subject. From a New Testament point of view, the word heresy denoted “sects” with differing understandings. It was not used as we do today to refer solely to false teachings on essential doctrines.
In fact, in a very real way, the Pharisees and Sadducees exemplify a type of Essentials Only View regarding excommunication. These two groups differed with one another on various matters of theology and practice. Some of their differences concerned important issues like life after death, the resurrection, and the existence of spirits and angels. And they also disagreed over the validity of ongoing, oral revelation and practical matters involving marriage and divorce.
We must recognize that these doctrines are fairly significant. Yet, despite these differences, the Pharisees and Sadducees worked together with one another and shared the authority to decide the religious affairs of the Jewish people. And though they practiced excommunication, they did not excommunicate one another over the issues where they disagreed. It is interesting to realize that, in this first century Jewish culture, you could be excommunicated for believing Jesus was the promised Messiah, but you would not be excommunicated for refusing to believe in life after death, the resurrection, or angels.
Our look at the first century Jewish context of the New Testament has been informative. We can see that the Jews practiced excommunication and that it involved a total severing of social contact and religious fellowship. We have also seen that despite this practice, the main Jewish groups had disagreements with one another over various theological and practical issues while maintaining fellowship with one another.
As we turn to the New Testament teaching on excommunication we will investigate whether Jesus’ teachings incorporate or reject these first century Jewish practices. Did Jesus instruct his disciples in the practice of excommunication? Was this practice as severe as that of his fellow Jewish contemporaries? Does the New Testament adopt the kind of charitable allowance for differences of opinion that was exhibited by the Pharisees and Sadducees who accepted each other rather than excommunicating one another? Or did Jesus and the apostle require a stricter form of doctrinal unity?
In the sections ahead we will see how the New Testament answers these questions on excommunication and requirements for doctrinal unity. As we go, we will also compile lists of excommunicable issues based on information contained in various New Testament texts.
The Gospels: Jesus’ Teaching on Separation and Excommunication
We will divide our examination of Jesus’ teachings into two components. The first will explore Jesus’ teaching regarding excommunication and dividing from other Christians. The second component will explore Jesus’ teaching in regards to tolerance for doctrinal variation and sectarian differences of opinion. Both sections will provide insight into whether Jesus’ intended for his followers to have comprehensive or limited doctrinal unity.
New Testament instructions for separation from other Christians begin in the gospels. Christ’s instructions on excommunication are recorded for us in Matthew 18. Before we turn to that passage, we will first take a brief look at Matthew 10’s account of comments made by Jesus regarding division. In this passage Jesus states that because of Him even members of the same family will be at variance with one another.
Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance (1369) against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
The Greek word translated as “variance” is “dichazo” (Stong’s number 1369.) It means to cut into two parts or sever.
1369 dichazo
from a derivative of 1364; ; v
AV-to set at variance 1; 1
1) to cut into two parts, cleave asunder, sever
It is surely the case that Christ would prefer that the entire household follow him. However, Jesus recognizes that this will not always be the case and he acknowledges that people, even families, will be divided over him. Christ connects the loss of family ties to his expectation that his followers would be willing to lose their lives in this world for his sake. According to Jesus, those who loved their families and weren’t willing to lose them for His sake weren’t worthy of being his followers.
With these words Christ indicates that we should be willing to be severed from our families and our relationships with our loved ones because of him. This passage is informative for us regarding Jesus’ position on division. Jesus recognizes the fact that people will be separated over him and his teaching. And He exhorts his followers to be willing to be separated from others, even from family, for His sake.
Similarly, in Matthew 18, Jesus instructs his disciples to separate from Christian brothers (and sisters) who are in sin.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 18:15-17 dictate a process of excommunication. We know this because the ultimate outcome of the process is an unrepentant brother being treated as a “heathen” and a “publican.”
The word for “heathen” that is used here is “ethnikos” (Strong’s number 1482.) It refers to someone who was from a foreign nation, not of a member of the Jewish people, and separated from the things of God.
1482 ethnikos
from 1484; TDNT-2:372,201; n m
AV-heathen 1, heathen man 1; 2
1) adapted to the genius or customs of a people, peculiar to a people, national
2) suited to the manners or language of foreigners, strange, foreign
3) in the NT savouring of the nature of pagans, alien to the worship of the true God, heathenish
3a) of the pagan, the Gentile
The Greek word “ethnikos” only appears two times in the New Testament. It comes from the closely related word “ethnos” (Strong’s number 1484) which is used much more frequently.
484 ethnos
probably from 1486; TDNT-2:364,201; n n
AV-Gentiles 93, nation 64, heathen 5, people 2; 164
1) a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together
1a) a company, troop, swarm
2) a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus
2a) the human family
3) a tribe, nation, people group
4) in the OT, foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles
5) Paul uses the term for Gentile Christians
Paul’s words in Ephesians 2 communicate the first century Jewish perspective of what it meant to be a Gentile. (The Greek word that Paul is using here is “ethnos.”)
Ephesians 2:11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles (1484) in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens (526) from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers (3581) from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers (3581) and foreigners (3941), but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
Throughout Ephesians 2, Paul refers to Gentiles with several conceptually-related words. These words are “apallotrioo” (Strong’s number 526,) “xenos” (3581,) and “paroikos” (3941.) Below are their definitions.
526 apallotrioo
from 575 and a derivative of 245; TDNT-1:265,43; v
AV-be alienated with + 5607 2, be alien 1; 3
1) to alienate, estrange
2) to be shut out from one’s fellowship and intimacy
3581 xenos
apparently a primary word; TDNT-5:1,661; adj
AV-stranger 10, strange 3, host 1; 14
1) a foreigner, a stranger
1a) alien (from a person or a thing)
1b) without the knowledge of, without a share in
1c) new, unheard of
2) one who receives and entertains another hospitably
2a) with whom he stays or lodges, a host
3941 paroikos
from 3844 and 3624; TDNT-5:841,788; adj
AV-stranger 2, sojourn 1, foreigner 1; 4
1) dwelling near, neighbouring
2) in the NT, a stranger, a foreigner, one who lives in a place without the right of citizenship
3) metaph.
3a) without citizenship in God’s kingdom
3b) one who lives on earth as a stranger, a sojourner on the earth
3c) of Christians whose home is in heaven
From this brief linguistic comparison we can get a very good idea of what Jesus (a Jewish man speaking to other Jews) meant by instructing his disciples to treat someone as a “heathen.” Simply put, in biblical terms a heathen was someone who was alienated and shut off from fellowship. They were outsiders who were not part of the community of God’s people. And they had no share in the things of God.
John 18 also provides further insight into what it meant to be treated like a heathen in Jesus’ day.
John 18:28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall (4232), lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
In John 18, the Jewish leadership of the time led Jesus from the house of the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, to the “praitorion” (Strong’s No. 4232), which was “the palace in which the governor or procurator of a province resided.” Notice that the Jews refuse to go into the house of the Gentile governor Pilate because they are afraid that contact with a Gentile would disqualify them from participation in the Passover feast. Bible commentaries speculate that this fear of defilement stemmed either from the literal prohibition against contact with leaven during the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:4), which would have been present in Pilate’s house or possibly the prohibition against contact with a dead body (Leviticus 22:4-6; Numbers 5:2) applied metaphorically to Gentiles in Jewish tradition. In either case, this incident from John 18 illustrates what imagery Jesus would have automatically conjured up in the minds of his contemporary Jews when he spoke of treating a brother “like a heathen.” In Jesus’ day, it was common for Jews to shun contact with Gentiles during required corporate gatherings in order to avoid disqualification from participation in national purification and the corporate meal. This is the kind of implication Jesus’ was conveying when he told his disciples to treat unrepentant Christian brother “like a heathen.”
Moreover, the relationship to Passover, both from Deuteronomy and the time of year when Jesus’ died, are interesting because it was the Passover meal that Jesus commanded his disciples to continue in the form of the regular communion meal. This prohibition against contact with “leaven” as a requirement for participating in the communal meal will also become relevant when we discuss Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 12 below.
Besides the word “ethnikos” Jesus also uses the word “publican” in Matthew 18:17. The word translated as “publican” is the Greek word “telones” (Strong’s number 5057.) It is simply a reference to a tax collector.
5057 telones
from 5056 and 5608; TDNT-8:88,1166; n m
AV-publican 22; 22
1) a renter or farmer of taxes
1a) among the Romans, usually a man of equestrian rank
2) a tax gatherer, collector of taxes or tolls, one employed by a publican or farmer general in the collection of taxes. The tax collectors were as a class, detested not only by the Jews, but by other nations also, both on account of their employment and of the harshness, greed, and deception, with which they did their job.
In ancient cultures tax collectors were seen as traitors to their own people. They were despised. A person did not seek the company of a tax collector. Instead, they avoided them.
Jesus’ use of these two words is informative for us regarding the consequences he intends to follow excommunication. According to Jesus any Christian who refuses to repent is to be alienated from the community of God’s people and to be avoided. These are strong terms indeed. And they parallel the consequences of the first century, Jewish practice of excommunication in which an excommunicated person was separated from the community of believers socially and for the purposes of religious gathering.
It is also worth comparing Jesus’ instructions for how to treat Christian brothers who refuse to repent of sin with Jesus’ treatment of sinners.
The gospel accounts show that it was common for Jesus to draw disciples from sinners rather than from those who were part of the religious establishment. The gospels record a few occasions where Jesus is socializing with sinners. For instance, let us look at Matthew 9 and Luke 5.
Matthew 9:10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Here in this passage, Jesus is eating a meal with publicans (tax collectors) and sinners. The Pharisees ask why Jesus hangs out with these people who they themselves would have shunned and avoided. Christ responds by explaining that his purpose was to bring these people to repentance (Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:32.)
Mark’s account of these same events even states that these sinners followed Jesus (verse 15.) This may simply mean that these people travelled with Christ. However, just one verse earlier (in both gospel accounts) this same verb is used to describe how the apostle Matthew (also called Levi, who was a tax collector) came and followed Christ.
Mark 2:14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow (190) me. And he arose and followed (190) him.15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed (190) him. 16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew 9:9 And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow (190) me. And he arose, and followed (190) him.
According to Luke’s record, the house Jesus was eating dinner in was, in fact, Matthew’s house.
Luke 5:27 And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. 28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
We can see then that the gospels record that Christ interacted with people who were tax collectors and were considered sinners by the religious establishment. He did so in order to get them to repent and follow him.
When Christ visits Peter, his brother Andrew, and his partners (James and John) Peter similarly speaks of himself as a sinner.
Luke 5:8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
Luke 19 records another clear instance of Jesus’ practice. In this case, Jesus visits with Zacchaeus who repents of his sinful deeds.
Luke 19:5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
These passages all make it plain that Jesus socialized with repentant sinners who had become his disciples (such as Matthew and the other disciples.) He also ate with sinners, tax collectors, and those who were shunned by the religious establishment in order to get them to repent and become his disciples. In contrast to these two groups, Christ instructed his disciples to shun, cut off, and avoid any Christian brother who refused to repent of sin.
Jesus’ instructions on excommunication are actually introduced by remarks recorded earlier in Matthew 18. In verses 8-9, Jesus discusses the need to “cut off” and “cast away” any part of the body that causes offense.
Matthew 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
The metaphor of cutting off parts of the body is one of drastic measures. No one would quickly or comfortably embrace this solution. Naturally, our tendency is to want to keep our bodies intact and whole. Jesus’ metaphor conveys the importance of unity and wholeness in a body. But we can see that to Christ preventing the spread of sin was even more of a priority. In Jesus’ perspective it required the harshest and most unpleasant course of action. The procedure he mandates is not one of ease or comfort. It’s dire. It’s desperate. It’s going to separate the unity of the body. But nevertheless, it is necessary. And, it’s actually better for the unity of the body. In these passages, Jesus’ explicitly states that remaining “whole” and having more “members of the body” is not as valuable as avoiding error even if that means having less “members of the body.”
The Greek word translated as “offend” in Matthew 18:6 is “skandalizo” (Strong’s number 4624.) It means to cause to stumble, to entice to sin to disobey, to cause to lose or turn away from the faith, to cause to fall away.
4624 skandalizo
from 4625; TDNT-7:339,1036; v
AV-offend 28, make to offend 2; 30
1) to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall, metaph. to offend
1a) to entice to sin
1b) to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey
1b1) to cause to fall away
1b2) to be offended in one, i.e. to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority
1b3) to cause one to judge unfavourably or unjustly of another
1c) since one who stumbles or whose foot gets entangled feels annoyed
1c1) to cause one displeasure at a thing
1c2) to make indignant
1c3) to be displeased, indignant
Earlier in Matthew 13:20-22, Jesus uses this same word “skandalizo” in his parable of the Sower and the Seed. In the parable, Jesus uses “skandalizo” to refer to those who lose faith and do not make it into the kingdom. (See also Mark 4:17.)
From the New Testament usage of this word we can see that Jesus is discussing those who lose faith and turn away from God. Similarly, in Matthew 18, Jesus is talking about people who offend others and cause them to turn away from God (verse 7.) He then instructs his disciples to “cut off” and “cast from themselves” any part of the body that offends so that the whole body doesn’t end up in everlasting hell. As the very definition indicates, it is important to recognize that the word “offend” here does not mean a personal offense in the sense of having your feelings hurt or your principles insulted as we might think of “being offended” in modern, western culture. Rather, in these passages the injury is the act of being turned away from God, not an emotional or intellectual injury. “Offense” simply refers to whatever action causes the person to depart from God, regardless of whether or not the victim is upset, emotionally bothered, or even aware of what has happened.
It is also important to note that the New Testament takes Christ’s metaphor of the members of the body and applies it to the church. Accordingly, the church is Christ’s body and individual believers are the different parts of that body.
Romans 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another
1 Corinthians 12:12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ…27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Ephesians 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 3 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Considering this New Testament use of language, it’s no wonder that immediately after he discusses the cutting off and casting away of sinful member of the body, Christ instructs his disciples to separate from members of the church who continue in sin and refuse to repent. As we continue we will see that the apostles clearly connected these sections of Matthew 18. They understood that excommunication was separating and casting away a fellow Christian from the body of believers. An unrepentant brother was to be alienated from church fellowship and avoided.
Before we conclude our study of Matthew 18, we should note the intervening verses between Jesus’ remarks on cutting of a sinful member of the body (v. 8-9) and Jesus’ instruction on excommunication of a Christian brother who refused to repent of sin (v. 15-20.)
In verses 6-11, Jesus discusses those who cause others to sin. He does so in reference to offending little children from the faith. This is where Jesus introduces his language about cutting of members of the body that cause offense. In verse 11, Jesus repeats a statement we saw in Luke 19:10 above. Jesus came to save them which are lost. Our look at Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 9, and Luke 10 has shown that Jesus used this phrase to refer to calling sinners to repentance. In verse 15, Jesus applies these teachings to excommunication of Christian brothers. In between verse 11 and verse 15, Jesus gives the parable of the lost sheep.
Matthew 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. 12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. 15 Moreover (1161) if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
In the parable of the lost sheep we can see that Jesus presents the idea of a sheep that has gone astray. He refers to the shepherd going after the lost sheep in order to bring them back to the rest of the flock. The parable ends with the lost sheep being found and returning to the flock. In this parable Jesus is teaching about the same things he is addressing in the rest of this passage. The parable of the lost sheep is about a Christian (someone who was part of the flock and, like the little children, once believed but later was offended.) The Christian’s straying has resulted in their no longer being part of the flock. Finding the lost sheep represents the repentance of the strayed believer and their return to the join the rest of the flock.
Jesus uses this parable of the lost sheep to introduce his instructions on excommunication. Verse 15, which begins the instructions about excommunication, starts with the word “moreover.” This Greek conjunction joins and connects Jesus’ thoughts in the previous verses (verses 6-14) to what follows in verses 15-22. It is clear that throughout this chapter Jesus has one line of thought in mind. It is conveyed through the idea of children who are offended from the faith, through the idea of members of the body which offend, through a lost sheep astray from the flock, and through the excommunication of Christian brothers.
The three step process that Christ outlines in verses 15-17 is the process by which the shepherd(s) of the flock attempt to restore a sheep who in the process of straying from the rest of the flock. This process is as follows. Step one involves one Christian informing another Christian of a sinful behavior or wrong belief that they are involved in (verse 15.) If the sinning party does not repent, a second step is required involving one or two other Christians in order to establish that the person is sinning and to charge them to repent. If the sinning party refuses to listen to the assessment of these two or three men, then a third step must be taken. The matter must be brought before the entire church. If the person persists in sin refusing to repent, then they must be cut off and cast out of the community of believers.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
From Matthew 18, we learn that Jesus did, in fact, establish the practice excommunication among his followers. And his form of excommunication carried a result that was essentially identical to the practice of the first century Jews. Jesus and his disciples merely appropriated this practice within a three-step set process. Likewise, as with the first century Jewish procedure, one of the clear purposes of Christ’ teaching was to prevent the spread of sin among his followers. Another purpose is conveyed by the inclusion of three stages. Each stage is taken with the hope of persuading a brother to repent and turn from their sin.
As we leave this section on Matthew 18 and excommunication, we should also take note of Jesus’ references to authority, his name, forgiveness of those who repent, and “being with” his disciples as they carrying out these tasks. Each of these ideas is paralleled by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians, which we will look at in an upcoming section.
Matthew 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Likewise, we should note that Jesus’ instructions on excommunication here in Matthew 18 are associated with the idea of asking and receiving. Though John’s gospel does not include any direct teaching from Christ on excommunication, he does include Jesus’ remarks that his followers must remain in his teachings and relates this to their ability to ask and receive. Later, as we study John’s first epistle, we will see that the apostle John related Jesus’ statements about asking and receiving to Jesus’ teaching on excommunication.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.