Matthew 18:20 — “Two Or Three” Gathering
Matthew 18:20 is often used to justify ad hoc, non-church worship gatherings.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
This verse is often used by people to justify ad hoc, non-church worship gatherings, including gatherings in which the Lord’s Supper is observed. Vacationers, hunters, fishermen and other travelers cite this verse as authority to conduct small non-church meetings for the Lord’s Supper while at deer camp, on the lake fishing, going on a ship cruise, a bus tour, a holy land tour or in other circumstances where meeting with a church is not possible or convenient.
Concerns over the coronavirus have now brought the passage into the forefront of discussion. It is being cited as proof that when church services are canceled, families or small gatherings of friends can conduct worship services, including observance of the Lord’s Supper, apart from a local church assembly. Obviously, if brethren have been right to use the verse for the deer stand, cruise ship or the bass boat, it would be right to invoke it in a virus scare. However, it is being misused in all of these situations.
It should be remembered that whatever the passage means now, it has always meant and will always mean. If Matthew 18:20 authorizes ad hoc Lord’s Supper assemblies now, in this circumstance, then it authorizes such assemblies in other circumstances and long after the coronavirus threat is over.
The Context Of Matthew 18:20
A simple glance at the context proves that Matthew 18:20 is not a worship assembly passage. It is a corroboration passage.
Verses 18-20 say, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Those familiar with the Bible recognize verse 18 as being a restatement of Matthew 16:19, where Jesus had told Peter this same thing. What Jesus said to Peter about what had been “bound” and “loosed” in heaven He says to all of the apostles in Matthew 18:18. Like Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18 is a revelation passage. The apostles would preach the gospel information that heaven (God) had bound and loosed. These are not worship assembly verses, they are divine revelation verses.
Verses 19 begins with the word “again,” which takes us back to Christ’s earlier reference to “two or three” in the correction verse of Matthew 18:16.
Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).
The “two or three” of Matthew 18:16 is distinguished from the “individual” of verse 15 and the “church” of verse 17. Note that according to Jesus, “two or three” are NOT the church, but are something different. If the sinner refused to listen to the “two or three” THEN the “church” would become involved, but not before.
The Lord’s “again” in verse 19 connects the principle of verses 19 and 20 back to the corroborating “witnesses” of verse 16. The point is clear and context is everything. The “gathering together” of “two or three” is a reference to corroborating eye witness testimony. In the case of Matthew 18:16, it had to do with corroborating human testimony. In the case of Matthew 18:19-20 it had to do with corroborating divine testimony.
Matthew 18:20 has nothing to do with ad hoc worship assemblies. It teaches the power and importance of corroborative testimony.