Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 24, 2008

Paul’s Source for Church Discipline Procedure

In a number of Pauline passages, we find the apostle giving instruction to Christian congregations regarding church discipline.  What informed the instructions which Paul gave? One would think, given the importance of the risen Lord in the life of the apostle Paul, that the instructions of Jesus (recorded in Matthew 18:15-17) would have been paramount in informing Paul’s teaching.  Oddly enough, many who discuss Paul’s disciplinary practices either ignore or discount this possibility.
Now, I grant the possibility that the gospel of Matthew had not yet been written when Paul was writing his epistles.  However, it appears to me that Paul did indeed look to the instructions of Christ (which are recorded in Matt 18:15-17) on discipline in the assembly.  The following evidence supports this understanding:
(1) While Pauline disciplinary passages do not in each instance provide an exhaustive account of disciplinary steps, the instructions we do have are compatible with those given by Christ.
(2) Paul had opportunity for instruction in the apostolic tradition while at Jerusalem before his formal itinerant ministry commenced (Acts 9:26-28; Gal 1:18), and spoke in other contexts of the tradition he had received (e.g., 1 Cor 11:23-25).
(3) Paul was part of the Jerusalem congregation (Acts 9:26-28), and later ministered with Barnabas (an emissary of the Jerusalem congregation) in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26) and it would be expected that such congregations would themselves incorporate the disciplinary guidelines spoken to the apostles by the Lord.
I should add that J. B. Orchard (“Thessalonians and the Synoptic Gospels,” Biblica 19 [1938]: 19-42) concludes on the basis of eschatologically themed passages in Matthew and Thessalonians that Paul was indeed acquainted with Matthew’s written gospel.
Not too many commentators explicitly draw the connection between Paul’s instructions and Jesus’ instructions in this regard.  One who does is Richard L. Mayhue, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1999), 194.


  1. Why omit the fact that Paul received his gospel directly from Christ. Since Paul quotes Jesus saying something not recorded by the gospel writers, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), why exclude the possibility that Paul learned his church discipline principles directly from Jesus?

  2. Philip,

    Are you suggesting that 1) Paul personally heard Jesus teach these principles before Jesus’ death; 2) Jesus spoke these principles to Paul after Jesus’ death, through direct revelation; or 3) Paul received through instruction by the apostles these principles of Jesus’?

    #1 seems doubtful, but I don’t think you are suggesting this.
    I grant the possibility of #2, but I’m uncertain what evidence would suggest this.
    #3 is what I was trying to say in the post. Perhaps I came across as saying that the congregations developed the guidelines, but I mean to say that they incorporated and passed along the guidelines given to them by the Lord through the apostles.

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