Is there a legitimate contextual comparison between what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:15-20 (certain disciplinary functions working in an assembly of people in God's name) and the text in John 20:21-23? (That is, are both texts referring to the same subject matter?)

I ask this question because it seems that Jesus may be "handing over the baton" to his disciples in John 20, so to speak, as He was soon to ascend to the father as read in Acts 1.

Here are the scriptures in question.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matt 18:15-20 NASB)

So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained." (Jn 20:21-23 NASB)

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    Because there is some side conversation going on about what you mean by "legitimate contextual comparison," for clarity, are you referring to whether the historical event (context) from the Mt 18 passage is the background for the Jn 20 statement in Jesus' thought as He may be 'handing over the baton'? Or are you asking something different about the relation of these passages?
    – ScottS
    Sep 25, 2015 at 15:54

3 Answers 3


Jad, I think I am one of those who appeal to John 20 but not primarily for Pentecostal leanings, but rather to show that the disciples were already saved believers before the Day of Pentecost.

A link between Matt. 18 & John 20 may exist, but only to the extent that Jesus was reiterating a principle established on at least two other occasions, namely that which you have identified (Matt. 18) and also Matt. 16:18-20.

In Matt. 18 Jesus is specifically instructing the disciples (and now the church), as to the fundamental practices relating to correcting someone who is straying into sin. John reveals how the Lord loved and commissioned the believers, reminding them of their responsibility to Go.

Regarding the statement of "forgiving the sins" of people, two eminent Greek experts (Kenneth Wuest and Julius R. Mantey) are both emphatic that the Greek language states that "whoever you declare to be forgiven of sin shall have first been forgiven in heaven". In Mark 2:7 the scribes are recorded as declaring "only God can forgive sins".

Just wondering if this has been helpful?

  • Given that sin is a transgression or missing of the mark of Gods law, by that fact alone, God is the only one possible who could forgive or judge one for their sins. However, I try not to read the verses found in Matt 16 & 18 as being to 'the church' as its understood today. They were in relation to an assembling of people in the name of God. It's just that John 20:23 is the same language as Matt 16 & 18 and therefore is restricted to internal 'church' issues of salvation and sin. I don't see how the context of John 20 is any different to the verses in Matt 16 & 18. Thanks.
    – Jad
    Oct 6, 2015 at 9:21

The fact that it was not until after the Lord was resurrected that He explictly gave the power to forgive sins (John 20:23) leads us to conclude that this particular power was not bestowed on them earlier, during the time of the discourse described in Matthew 18:15ff. The power to forgive sin required their receiving Holy Spirit, which they received in part in John 20:22 and fully later at Pentecost (Acts 2).

Matthew 18:15-19 was understand by most Church Fathers to relate to preserving order within the Church (ἡ ἐκκλησία - v.17). Bede, for example, wrote:

The Lord rightly added, And if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be to you as a heathen man and a publican, since it is fitting for the priests of God to keep the order and discipline which must be maintained in the Church. Therefore, the Lord gave the keys of the heavenly kingdom not only to Peter but also to the others who are his successors. He then entrusted them to His holy apostles and their legitimate successors, to be used in binding or loosening those things which must be done on earth for the sake of the heavenly kingdom (Commentary on Matthew, Book II, Chapter 18).


There seems to be a fine line here that I can lean on either side. I see that Jesus is trying to instruct the disciples when how to set up the new church and I'm sure it was very difficult. But the confusion for me comes with Jesus saying let you that is without sin cast the first stone. And then turns around and says if you see somebody sinning pointed out to him if they don't listen go get some witnesses pointed out to him again if they still don't listen get the church to accuse them. Well if I see someone sending I might pray for that person but I don't think I'm going to go tell them

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