Twisted Scripture Number 42: 
Matthew 18:15-17: Matthew 18 Does Not Forbid Exposing False Teaching Before Going To The Source

By Brannon Howse

The Scripture: 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.


The Twist: These verses are used out of context over and over as a club to attempt to silence people from speaking truth. Often when I speak out against a false teacher or an evangelical Christian that is in error, someone will e-mail me Matthew 18:15-17, and tell me my actions are unbiblical unless I have first gone to the person that is publicly speaking error. 

   This twist is an absurd manipulation of Scripture. Some of these folks will drone on about how you are not loving or are creating disunity among Christians and how this is such a bad witness to unbelievers. 

A bad witness? 

It would be a better witness to allow false teaching and a false gospel to go uncorrected and unchallenged? 

What the thought police don’t want you to know is that throughout the New Testament the great apostle Paul himself publicly denounced false teachers by name without first going to them in private. After all, how can one privately correct public false teaching? It can’t be done, and that’s exactly why we are to publicly point out erroneous teaching once it has been promoted in books, television, radio, websites, and other public forums.

The Bible is filled with examples of Jesus and others calling false teachers by name. In 2 Timothy, for example, the apostle Paul reads the riot act to numerous people:


1:15—Phygellus and Hermogenes 

2:17—Hymenaeus and Philetus,

3:8—Jannes and Jambres,


4:14—Alexander the coppersmith. 


In 3 John 9, the apostle John names Diotrephes. And Jesus called out false teachers in Matthew 23 and Luke 11. 


   In context, it is clear that Matthew 18:15-17 references how to handle a private issue or a personal offense. The passage details steps to take for church discipline of an individual who has sinned. If the offending person does not repent when confronted privately, then you are to take one or two people with you. If the individual still will not repent, then take the issue before the church. If even that doesn’t work, the person is to be removed from fellowship until he or she admits to the sin and repents.

So: Is it inappropriately negative and unbiblical to name false teachers? Not at all. In fact, I think it is very positive. 

   I believe God allows false teachers in order to test whether or not the Church will be faithful in its biblical mandate to expose them and protect the sheep from spiritual poison and from wolves in sheep’s clothing. Ephesians 5:11 encourages us to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”

   The next time someone twists Matthew 18:15-17 in order to try and silence you from publically correcting public error, do untwist their distortion of these verses in a kind and loving manner. But keep on speaking the truth. 


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