Why does Martthew 18:17 use ekklēsia, then at the end of the verse use ekklēsias both for the "Church"? Does one mean the elders, like the jewish tradition of jewish leaders at the gate and the other mean the church body in a specific location or like Acts - the Church in Jerusalem? Trying to figure this out.

4 Answers 4


In Matt 18:17, both instances in the Greek of the word translated "church" are the same word but in different declensions, namely:

  • ἐκκλησίᾳ (ekklēsia) Noun - Dative Feminine Singular
  • ἐκκλησίας (ekklēsias) Noun - Genitive Feminine Singular

This word, according to BDAG has various shades of meaning all deriving from the ad hoc political system and discussions that occurred in the market places where people were called out to debate. BDAG lists the following:

  1. a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly, eg, Acts 19:39
  2. a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, gathering, eg, Acts 19:32, 40
  3. people with a shared belief, community, congregation, eg, Act 7:38, Matt 18:7, Rom 16:5, etc.

In the NT, "ekklesia" is never used in the modern sense of being an institution; it is mostly used in the simple sense of people called out of the world as Christians to form a congregation. In this sense it could be a local congregation (1 Cor 11:18), or the totality of a collection of congregations in an area (Acts 5:11, 8:3, 9:31, etc), or even refer to the world-wide group of Christians as a whole (1 Cor 6:4, 12:28, etc).

While leaders (episkopio) of congregations were appointed by voting (Acts 14:23, 2 Cor 8:19) there is no distinction between the leadership and the congregation in the use of "ekklesia".

  • 1
    Great, thanks for the info. This is great. I appreciate it.
    – Karl Hus
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 17:23
  • Bishops, επισκοπον, were appointed by the Ministry from among the elders, see Titus 1:17. It was Paul, and those ministers with him who appointed in Acts 14:23, it was not a church election. II Cor 8:19 is about travelling companions not bishops.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 19:11
  • I assume that Titus 1:17 should be Titus 1:5. If true, then this is an instance of "appointment" (Gr: kathistemi). However, Acts 14:23 & 2 Cor 8:19 both use the verb “cheirotoneo” – “to elect by raising the hand” - quite different from Titus 1:5.
    – user25930
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 19:39
  • There is no distinction between bishops and elders in the NT - such is a much later development
    – user25930
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 10:35
  • @user25930 "Much later?" It's found in the first century with Ignatius, and he assumes all the apostolic churches, including Rome, have this structure by his time of writing (110AD)? Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 19:30

Matthew 18:15-18 (DRB) But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. 16 And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. 17 And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. 18 Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

This passage is about reconciliation: "If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone." Private settlement is preferable to involvement of others: "If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother."

"If he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand." Here, He recognizes the need to invoke the testimony of others, when the word (of which the wider sense in both Hebrew and Greek is "matter," "claim," "asserion," "argument," and so forth) of one is not sufficient for the rebuke of a brother who needs to be reconciled. Where one is not content to admit he is wrong between himself and his accuser, he will surely be so with the confrontation of other parties, who have no dog in the fight—it's much more likely that he is in fact wrong, and the rest of the church right.

He then gives the last court of appeal, but it differs from the others: "And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican." Now "church" just means "congregation," (coming from the sense of them being "gathered" and "assembled together"—ekklesia) but it has a wider technical usage in Scripture as the whole body, not just one local congregation, of those who adhere to the faith in the Messiah: "I will build my Church" (Mt. 16:16-18). Notice here that the defiance here is met with excommunication: "let him be considered a heathen and [an outcast]." Cf. Mt. 9:11. This means it differs in force and authority from that of mere members of the congretation meeting and also rebuking him alongwith the accuser, since 'two or three' from the congreation don't have the power to excommunicate anyone on par with themselves. It stands to reason that here "take it to the church" speaks of a higher court of appeal like that in Acts 15, where the apostles and elders met to declare decisively, on one side or the other, the truth of the matter. We see that this is the sense meant by "tell it to the church" since what follows demands a non-homogenous, unequal authority in the church: "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." This obviously cannot be held by all, or you'd have mutual excommunications of equal force, and you would not have settled anything—not would Jesus grant the power to do such a stupid and pointless thing. Indeed, we know that "binding" and "loosing" referred to the juridical powers of priests and such (or in the New Testament, bishops, not everyone, as does logic necessitate.

The Jewish Encyclopedia relates the first century and early Christian context of the concept of binding and loosing (Jewish Encyclopedia, Binding and Loosing):


The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees, says Josephus ("B J." i, 5, § 2), "became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind." This does not mean that, as the learned men, they merely decided what, according to the Law, was forbidden or allowed, but that they possessed and exercised the power of tying or untying a thing by the spell of their divine authority, just as they could, by the power vested in them, pronounce and revoke an anathema upon a person. The various schools had the power "to bind and to loose"; that is, to forbid and to permit (Ḥag. 3b); and they could bind any day by declaring it a fast-day (Meg. Ta'an. xxii.; Ta'an. 12a; Yer. Ned. i. 36c, d). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin (see Authority), received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, ix.; Mak. 23b).

In the New Testament.

In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt. xvi. 19, xviii. 18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who "bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers"; that is, "loose them," as they have the power to do (Matt. xxiii. 2-4). In the same sense, in the second epistle of Clement to James II. ("Clementine Homilies," Introduction), Peter is represented as having appointed Clement as his successor, saying: "I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing so that, with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens; for he shall bind what ought to be bound and loose what ought to be loosed as knowing the rule of the church." Quite different from this Judaic and ancient view of the apostolic power of binding and loosing is the one expressed in John xx. 23, where Jesus is represented as having said to his disciples after they had received the Holy Spirit: "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." It is this view which, adopted by Tertullian and all the church fathers, invested the head of the Christian Church with the power to forgive sins, the "clavis ordinis," "the key-power of the Church."


Unbeknownst to me, excommunication was a Jewish practice before Paul or Jesus spoke of it. According to this article, though there might be elders involved ("elders" also is a Jewish paradigm since at least Exodus), it might just be pronounced by an individual creditor who had a debtor who refused to pay his debt. Interestingly (and I did not know this before reading the article) it was apparently this that gave the Pharisees to control the people with their precepts:

The highest ecclesiastical censure, the exclusion of a person from the religious community, which among the Jews meant a practical prohibition of all intercourse with society. For the etymology of the Hebrew terms used in this connection and for a clear exposition of the historical development and of the ethical significance of this institution see Anathema and Ban.

Although developed from the Biblical ban, excommunication, as employed by the Rabbis during Talmudic times and during the Middle Ages, is really a rabbinic institution, its object being to preserve the solidarity of the nation and strengthen the authority of the Synagogue by enforcing obedience to its mandates. Still, the legal instinct of the Rabbis here, as elsewhere, made it impossible for such an arbitrary institution to become dangerous, and a whole system of laws was gradually developed, by means of which this power was hedged in and controlled, so that it practically became one of the modes of legal punishment by the court. While it did not entirely lose its arbitrary character, since individuals were allowed to pronounce the ban of excommunication on particular occasions, it became chiefly a legal measure resorted to by a judicial court for certain prescribed offenses.


As shown in the answer from User25390, both are from the word ἐκκλησία. The different spellings are to show different cases:

  • ἐκκλησίᾳ (ekklēsia) Noun - Dative case (singular)
  • ἐκκλησίας (ekklēsias) Noun - Genitive case (singular)

The dative case of the noun is used when the meaning is "to" or "for." In the verse, tell it to the church. The meaning is, "you" are to tell it to the church.

The genitive is used to show the source. In the verse, "the brother" fails to listen to what the church says in response to what they heard. That is, after hearing from "you" (the first source), the same church becomes the (second) source which speaks to the brother. The use of the genitive case makes clear the distinction the other brother does not listen to the church's response.

In addition, each use of church is preceded by the definite article written in the corresponding case:

  • τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ - dative case
  • τῆς ἐκκλησίας - genitive case

The use of the definite article in combination with the singular means "the church" in both instances is the same entity. So "you" tell it to the entire church and if the brother fails to listen to the entire church's response. Obviously the entire church would not be speaking, rather there would be a designated spokesperson(s) who would deliver the message, as Judas and Silas did in Acts.

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