Matthew 18:20 Translation of Greek

Matthew 18:20  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Question: Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20). It has been recently stated that men like Mr. J. N. Darby sought to help out their interpretation [of this scripture] “by a quite unwarrantable change in the translation of the words εἰς τὸ ἐμὸν ὄνομα, which they rendered unto my name, and took to import a gathering to Christ’s Name as a rallying point.” Is there any doubt of the right version? or any warrant for so evil an imputation? Μαθητής.
Answer: None whatever for either: no true scholar could have weighed the usage and given such an opinion. The evidence is decisively for the change. The aim for opposing it is to set aside the ecclesiastical character of the context, on which the Lord has impressed it so indelibly, that almost all the jarring parties of Christendom recognize that character, though they naturally overlook a word which none of them heeds, and which does mean a living and exclusive center. Its denial is a very bold exegetical error; for any serious inspection of the Lord’s words suffices to prove that the ease adduced had passed out of individual dealing to “the church” or assembly (not the synagogue). Then the Lord (18) strengthens this with His solemn averment of heaven’s sanction of their binding and loosing (not the keys), and His gracious assurance of His Father’s answer to the united petition of even two, Then He closes with the general principle for the worst of times (20) that He is in the midst, where two or three are gathered unto His name. The last promise is an invaluable guard against party work, as well as unbelief and the world. It speaks little to hearts which never had, or have lost, faith in His word or presence.
As to usage, the case in question quite differs from ἐπὶ τῷ ὀν. in ver. 5, where His name is made the motive, condition, or ground for receiving a little child, and εἰς would have been out of place. It is therefore strictly “on”, not “in”; and so in Acts 2:3838Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38) Peter bade repentant Jews be baptized, each of them on (ἐπὶ) the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins; and they should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If they had repented, they were already born of the Spirit, as where real is invariably the case. Compare Matt. 24:55For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:5), Mark 9:37, 39; 12:6, 937Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. (Mark 9:37)
39But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. (Mark 9:39)
6Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. (Mark 12:6)
9What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. (Mark 12:9)
. In Luke 1:5, 95There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. (Luke 1:5)
9According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. (Luke 1:9)
it shades into “after.” In Acts 10:4848And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:48) the same Peter commanded the Gentile believers to be baptized in (ἐν) the Lord’s name. See Mark 16:1717And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; (Mark 16:17); Luke 10:1717And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. (Luke 10:17); John 5:4343I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (John 5:43) &c. It would have been just as possible and true to have said “on” ; but it is not the same thought or expression as in virtue (or, in the power) of His name. In Acts 11:1616Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 11:16) Peter speaks of the Holy Spirit’s baptism, contrasted with John’s, as ἐν Πν. ἁγ in the Holy Spirit, where ἐπὶ, on, would have failed, for ἐν means in the power of the Spirit Himself. In Acts 19:55When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5) as in 8:16 the object proposed in baptism occurs, and here it is neither “in” nor “on,” but “unto,” Eig. The Revisers correct the faulty “in” of the A. V. but say “into” which is refuted by their own rendering of 1 Cor. 10:22And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; (1 Corinthians 10:2) (where “into” would be improper), and by the A. V. of Acts 19:33And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. (Acts 19:3). The Greek admits of either “unto,” or “into” according to context, which here requires the former. Water baptism does not imply more than “to” or “unto.” It is profession only; and the very aim of the apostle in 1 Cor. 102And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; (1 Corinthians 10:2) is to insist that it might be without life. So in our Lord’s commission in Matt. 28:1919Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19) it is baptizing “to” or “unto” the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It was baptism with water, and could not itself carry deeper. But the baptism of the Spirit has quite a different power, and effects incorporation, not “unto” merely as profession, but “into” one body, Christ’s body. Dean Alford gave up “in” but argued for “into” invalidly, his views being uncertain here as too often.
In Matt. 10:41, 4241He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. 42And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. (Matthew 10:41‑42) we have indeed the peculiar phrase of receiving a prophet, a righteous man, and a disciple, “unto” (εἰς) each’s respective name, or as such. Here it is perhaps hard to avoid in English saying “in the prophet’s name”; but it really means as aforesaid, and not what would have been imported by iv, in the power or authority of each, as in Christ’s name or even without any preposition as in Matt. 7:2222Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? (Matthew 7:22). But Meyer thinks that here “by” Thy name is preferable; and this may well be the just sense of a Greek phrase which differs from the rest, the instrumental dative.
Again, such forms as,ἕνεκν τοῦ or διὰ τὸ (or, ὑπὲρ τοῦ) ὀν. are indisputably “for thy Name’s sake,” so that we need not say more.
In the A. V., &o. Phil. 2:1010That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (Philippians 2:10) is, we all know, rendered “at” the name of Jesus, a rendering on which a well known and pervading practice of superstition was founded. The Revisers here say “in” (ἐν). If right, it means as usual in virtue of His name all creatures shall bow.
In 1 Cor. 5:4-134In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:4‑13) where putting out for wickedness is laid down peremptorily and perspicuously, it is in (ἐν) the Lord’s name that the assembled saints were charged to act. It was ordered of God that the written word should enjoin excommunication, when no apostle was actually there, nor apostolic delegate like Titus, and no elders had yet been appointed. This abides as the inalienable duty, as does the divine warrant for the assembly’s act, whenever the sorrowful need calls for this last resort. The Corinthian saints were light in various ways and had shirked or ignored what was due to the Lord, not even mourning that one so guilty should be taken away from them. The apostle insisted on purging the leaven out, in accordance with the sacrifice of Christ our passover; and the Spirit took care that as Christendom would show special disregard of this Epistle, it should be more impressively addressed than in any other, not to that assembly only, but coupling with it “all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, both theirs and ours.” Slight is therefore verily inexcusable.
As a matter of fact too, it was not till long after the Christians referred to had gathered, not as belonging to denominations, but simply as members of Christ, recognizing the one body and one Spirit according to the word, that the precise force of the Lord’s word in Matt. 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20) struck any. Believing in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost, they had learned the immense value of every inspired word. Tradition had no place in their eyes. Since they accepted every scripture as God-breathed and profitable, they sought entire subjection to it as a living word, while declining either to claim more than they had or to substitute human devices in lieu of what they had not. Any scholar who looks into the text in question must allow that, unless there were an obstacle from our idiom in this particular case, “unto” must be the exact force; for “into” would be absurd, and 4 properly, not εἰς, means “in.” But, far from a difficulty, the context here favors nothing so much as the proper import of εἰς, gathered “unto” My Name as the central presence on which they all depend and confide.
It was thus and only then perceived to be a confirmation of their position, already founded on the revealed principles of God’s assembly, modified as this must be by the ruin not less carefully fore-shown in the later Epistles and the Revelation, of which we are bound to take account, if we avoid that assumption which is so unworthy of Christ and so unbecoming in all that are His. How blessed to know that Christ remains as ever the center for even two or three gathered to His Name!
But it was received as certain truth, on the evidence of scripture better understood and independently of any ground other than the precise and full meaning of our Savior’s words. Just so for many other truths of moment we have learned since: we acted on the little that we first knew to be from God and of God; for we need the Spirit as well as the word. “To him that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken from him.” Nothing more perilous to man, nothing more dishonoring to God, than to give up what we once confessed and enjoyed as divine. Who can tell where departure once begun may end?