Matthew 18:15-20 – Don’t Read a Single Bible Verse!

single verse

Reflecting and Doing

This game reminds us that we must always look at the larger sections to find the meaning of the smaller ones.

What do the letters R-A-M mean? It all depends on where they are. Use your hand to cover the lines below and note the meaning of each line before you look at the next.

ram (to get you started, it’s a daddy sheep)


The cat-burglar scrambled up the tiles.

The cat-burglar scrambled up the tiles, then placed five of them on the board and got a triple word score.

So what is the meaning of R-A-M? It’s nothing to do with a daddy sheep, nor eggs, nor a crime in the offing. Sure, the letters ram are there. Sure, they mean daddy sheep. But they don’t mean daddy sheep in this context. And that’s important,

Here’s a bit of fun. Find the hidden words (there’s a clue in the brackets)

  • crocodile (food)
  • whale (liquid)
  • television (Bible character)
  • hippopotamus (kitchen item)
  • acknowledge (bird)
  • micrometre (capital city)
  • unstable (furniture)
  • chimpanzee (kitchen item)
  • chrysanthemum (bird)
  • nanosecond (body part)
  • covenants (kitchen item)
  • thankless (body part)
  • archipelago (food)


This is a funny little passage. I’ve heard all of these parts many times, but I had not really associated them. They seem a bit of an odd selection. There is the part about church discipline, then the verse about prohibiting and permitting, and finally the part about prayer triplets.

And of course the ‘brother who sins against you’ reminds me of the question that Peter asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven.”

Interestingly, that comes directly after this passage.

Actually, it doesn’t come after this passage –  it is this passage. It’s all one passage. We’re only reading a part of the whole. It can be easy to take the little parts of the Bible on their own and treat them as if they are independent. But the surrounding text is what makes the meaning of a verse, and the words in the verse. “The key to the meaning of any verse comes from the paragraph, not just from the individual words”, says Greg Koukl in Never Read a Bible Verse.

If we dissociate sound-bites verses – ‘where two or three are gathered’ – from their surroundings – ‘what you bind on earth is bound in heaven’ – we risk finding meaning – ‘if two of you on earth agree’ – that is not really there. We must not wrench verses from their moorings and take them on solo voyages in search of mermaids. Safer ship sail together.


What do you think these verses mean? Read the whole chapter as whole. Does that meaning seem different?


Matthew 18:15-20 Good News Translation

“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says. And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.

“And so I tell all of you: what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

“And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”


Greg Koukl, Never Read a Bible Verse.

Good News Translation
Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society


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