Long title; short blog.
To many people the knowledge of God can lead to pride: that they know Him, how much they know about or of Him. Scripture paints a very different picture. The knowledge of God is humbling:
May we know Christ and make Him known, in humility. Surely, the Lord will use this for His glory.
I was recently asked a question, the answer to which I thought would be helpful to share as we journey through C2C.
The question was this: “Can the principle of Matt 18:20 stand on its own outside of its context…[it seems to hold a more universal principle].” In other words, can we take verses that seem clear and use them out of their context?
The answer is no and kind of…
We need to remember that context is king. Three basic contexts are always helpful to ask when studying a verse, its literary, historical and theological contexts. Literary- how does this verse fit with the surrounding passage and book? Historical- What historical aspects in this verse or passage do I need to understand to see it correctly? Theological- How does this verse or passage fit into other wider passages on the same subject (i.e. what does the Bible say on the subject as a whole). CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT.
That context of Mt 18:20 is about life in the community of Christ, particularly what to do in cases of discipline. Christ has given the local church, in an official sense, the authority (v. 18, “bind”) to recognize who is a believer and who is not. This corporate witness and authority (itself harkening back to v.16) is affirmed by Jesus’ promise to be authoritatively and helpfully present in such circumstances.
Knowing the context is of vital importance to rightfully reading a verse, but also to reading it in all its richness.
There are verses that would be very dangerous to pluck out of their context. The classic is someone who opened their Bible, turned to Mt 27:5b (“Judas hung himself”) and then to Lk 10:37b (“go and do likewise”). We could flick open our Bibles and find a great many verses that we would mutilate the meaning of if we separated them from their context. Jer 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for your,” is a famous instance. It’s not meant to be a cushy verse just for anyone. In its context it is talking about Judah’s exile and is a call for the faithful to look to and hope in God during this difficult period in their history. It’s speaking specifically to believers, not saying there won’t be hardships, but that there is hope because of God’s plan of history. Once we’ve grasped the context, we can then apply the principle to situations the Christian may face today.
That said, I would tend to agree with our initial question that even though there are some verses that must be contextually understood, there are some verses, at least the principle of which, that can clearly and more independently stand on its own, like Ro 12:9, “hate evil and cling to what is good” (though it is of course enriched by its context).
The principle of Mt 18:20 is readily recognizable. It is one realized by say Christians imprisoned together by their faith, that when the proper number of witnesses to Christ come together Christ bears witness to them in a special way by presenting himself spiritually in a way that could not ordinarily be experienced by a lone believer (another good reasons for the corporate nature of the Church/body!).
So context is king, even if there are some verses, that to a degree, might be better suited for their principle to stand alone.
Click here to read a blog on our other church apologetics blog. It is on the question of human nature.
A question that is often asked of Christianity is this:
“What about all those who never hear about Jesus; is God just to sentence them to hell?”
The question is usually asked because someone wonders as to the ethic of such an exclusive claim of salvation.
So let’s begin with an example of an exclusive claim to salvation, Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
The objection then often arises, but what about someone in a secular community or a remote island nation who has never heard of Jesus, doesn’t have missionaries or a church or a Bible to instruct them in the way of salvation, is that person eternally damned to hell?
Yes, they are “without excuse.” Why?
To understand this one must realize what the Bible says about humans, we’re fallen, sinful beings, cut off from God and incapable of any spiritual good that might please Him and therefore earn our salvation (read more here). This is why God graciously sent Jesus, to be the rescuer of all those who’d hear the Gospel message and put their trust in Him. This is the basis for an exclusive salvation. We’re sinners, God appointed a means for salvation, we must believe in Jesus in order to be saved.
But is that fair? (Another option would have been for God not to have saved anyone, we see His grace in that He choose to save some; something to think about). Yes, because people are “without excuse.” Why are people without excuse?
If I were born on a stranded desert island with no knowledge of Jesus I would be without excuse for not believing in Him for three simple reasons from Romans 1:
For these sorts of reasons Paul says that unbelievers, everywhere, are “without excuse” (Ro 1:20b); even if they’ve never heard of Jesus. Knowing of Jesus and rejecting Him only increases our culpability; not knowing of Jesus doesn’t diminish it.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.