Question on Matt 18:17

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Matt 18:17 is well known and quoted, esp. among Catholic apologists.

NIV version:
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

But I think I may have misunderstood this verse completely until today. I was reading The Message version of this passage (at and I was struck with interpretation it gave.

Can anyone tell me what the official Roman Catholic interpretation is for this verse so that I can, like the Ethiopian, understand what I am reading?

Thank you!
Hi Iron,

There are very few passages that have an official interpretation and this is not one of them.

The translation you cite is not a translation at all. Someone is using the bible to push their own interpretation.

As can be seen from verse 18, this passage adresses especially the ministers of the Church, who are given the power to remit sins. The teaching is that we should give sinners every chance to repent before we give up on them.

I agree that we should give everyone a chance to repent. But the interpretation of The Message bible indicates that if they do not listen even unto the Church, then treat them as if they were a non-christian and attempt to re-introduce them to Christianity. This seems like a valid Christian ideal though very different from what I have seen through the Church’s history.

My interpretation was always that if the person could not be convinced of their error, even by the Church, then that person was to be abandoned and left to follow their own path. My gut feeling is that we give our brother/sister every possible chance to repent. If they ultimately won’t, then the Church excommunicates them, ala King Henry VIII.

Since the Catholic Church has no teaching regarding this passage, I guess am curious what people’s thoughts are on these two, very different interpretations.

By the way, I am 100% Catholic just so readers of this thread know where I stand on things 😉
St. thomas Aquinas says in a gloss
Or, tell it to the whole Church, that his infamy may be the greater. After all these things follows excommunication, which ought to be inflicted by the mouth of the Church, that is, by the Priest, and when he excommunicates, the whole Church works with him; as it follows, And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to you as a heathen, and a publican.
Origen says
Let us look well whether this precept extends to all sin; for what if any one sin any of those sins which are to death, such as unnatural crimes, adultery, homicide, or effeminacy, it cannot be meant that such as these are to be admonished privately, and if he hear you, forthwith to say that you have gained him. And not rather first put him out of the Church, or only when remaining obstinate after monition before witnesses, and by the Church? One man, looking at the infinite mercy of Christ, will say, that since the words of Christ make no distinction of sins, it is to go against Christ’s mercy to limit His words only to little sins. Another, on the other hand, considering the words carefully, will aver, that they are not spoken of every sin; for that he that is guilty of those great sins is not a brother, but is called a brother, with whom, according to the Apostle, we ought not so much as to eat.
But as they who expound this as referring to every sin give encouragement to the careless to sin; so, on the other hand, he, now teaches that one having sinned in little sins and such as are not deadly, is, when he has spurned the admonition of the witnesses and the Church, to be held as a heathen and a publican, seems to introduce too great severity. For whether he finally perishes, we are not able to decide. First, because he who has been thrice told of his fault and not hearkened, may hearken the fourth time; secondly, because sometimes a man does not receive according to his creeds, but beyond his trespass, which is good for him in this world; lastly, because He said not alone, Let him be as a heathen, but Let him be to you. Whoever then when reproved three times in a light trespass, does not amend, him we ought to hold for a heathen and a publican, avoiding him, that he may be brought to confusion. But whether he is esteemed of God also as a heathen and a publican, is not ours to decide, but is in the judgment of God.
This is an example of Din Torah, the Jewish process by which private disputes are resolved by first discussion between the disputants, second referal to the rabbinical court for resolution. If after receiving a decision from the rabbi, one of the disputants will not abide by it, one is justified in rejecting him in social settings. He has broken with the community by not accepting the decision.
Very orthodox Jewish. Exactly what is to be expected from a Jewish Messiah.

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