Daily Bible Study Tips: Reader Questions Answered

I had a lot of trouble with Matt. 18:18 and a little puzzlement about 18:19.  What do they mean?

Both of these verses have caused many Christians to be puzzled, so you are not alone.  Let's take a look at these two verses in the English Standard Version.
The primary problem with Matthew 18:18 is that it is routinely translated and discussed in commentaries as if the Greek contained a simple future verb.  That is, most translations agree with the ESV in saying something like, "whatever you forbid/allow on earth will be forbidden/allowed in heaven."  This leaves the reader wondering why on earth Peter or the disciples are given such power.  God is going to do whatever the disciples think should be done?  How do I get in on that?
Rest easy.  The Greek verb is not in the future tense.  A few translations, such as the New American Standard Version and International Standard Version, correctly represent the Greek as a future perfect verb.  What the Greek says is "whatever you forbid/allow on earth will have been forbidden/allowed in heaven." A couple of the commentaries I looked at explain that Peter and the other apostles are ratifying on earth what has already occurred in heaven.   So Jesus is saying, "You, my disciples, have got such great insight into the works of God that you will be accurate reporters of what God has already done."   Remember that this instruction first took place immediately after Peter acknowledged, on behalf of the disciples, who Jesus is:
Jesus immediately assures the disciples in vs. 16:19 that the Father will continue to reveal to Peter what God  is doing, that is, that Peter (you – singular) will be the reporter and implementer on earth of God's work in heaven.  Vs. 18:18 is a reiteration of this initial instruction, and it expands the work of reporting and implementing to the rest of the disciples (you – plural).

Vs. 18:19 must be read with 18:20:  "Furthermore, truly I tell you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you request, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them."  These verses have generated several streams of thought among scholars. 
The biggest problem we have is truly praying in the name of Jesus.  The name is the person.  To pray in the name of Jesus means to pray in complete love and in complete submission to the will of God, just as Jesus did.  God loves my neighbor just as much as God loves me, so he will never benefit me at my neighbor's expense.  God has given my neighbor free will and will never force my neighbor to do my will.  It is the will of God that our bodies eventually die.  It is the will of God that we suffer on earth the inevitable earthly consequences of our sins.  God won't change the past.  God won't give me what I want if he can give me something better.  In summary, God doesn't always give me what I ask for, even if I get one of you to agree with me.  

Copyright 2007, 2010 by Regina L. Hunter

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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