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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Unity and Excommunication

Introduction: Unity, Excommunication, and Essentials Only
Excommunication: Historical Context, the Gospels (Part 1)
Excommunication: the Gospels (Part 2)
Excommunication: Acts and Romans
Excommunication: Corinthians
Excommunication: Galatians
Excommun.: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians
Excommunication: Paul’s Letters to Timothy
Excommunication: Titus, Hebrews, James, Peter’s Epistles
Excommunication: John’s Epistles, Jude, and Revelation
Excommunication: Biblical Assessment
Excommunication: Historical, Logical Assessments, Conclusions

Part Two: Biblical Study
Acts: Requirements for Doctrinal Unity and Excommunication
The Book of Acts confirms the expectations that were created by Jesus’ teaching on doctrinal unity, excommunication, and intolerance for differing understandings.
We have already examined Acts 1:1-9 earlier in our study. So, the first verse we will look at is Acts 2:41-42.
Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued (2258) stedfastly (4342) in the apostles’ doctrine (1322) and fellowship (2842), and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
This summary statement from Acts 2:42 is important because it is discussing Christian fellowship. Breaking bread is a New Testament means of referring to the communion meal, which Jesus established as the central act of Christian fellowship. This fellowship occurred when Christians gathered together and shared the word. The Greek word that is translated as “fellowship” is “koinonia” (Strong’s number 2842.) It is a general word used in the New Testament to refer to the fellowship and community of Christians. To have fellowship (or “koinonia”) was the opposite of being excommunicated.
2842 koinonia
from 2844; TDNT-3:797,447; n f
AV-fellowship 12, communion 4, communication 1, distribution 1, contribution 1, to communicate 1; 20
1) fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse
1a) the share which one has in anything, participation
1b) intercourse, fellowship, intimacy
1b1) the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office)
1c) a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship
This passage is important to our study because it states that the earliest Christians had fellowship with one another as they continued in the apostles’ teaching. This is exactly what Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1 all discussed. Christ sent the apostles to teach all men everything whatsoever that he had taught them. Those who believed what the apostles taught would be Christ’s disciples and join the community of Jesus’ followers (Matthew 28:19.) Similarly, in John 8:31, we saw that Jesus stated that those who continued in his word would be his disciples.
John 8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
Here in Acts 2:42, we see Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1 fulfilled precisely. New converts were received into fellowship as they believed and continued in all the doctrines taught by the apostles.
The next passage we will look at is Acts 10. Acts 10 provides the account of the first Gentiles to come to faith in Christ. As Peter visits the household of Cornelius, he begins to share with them about Jesus. As he speaks the Gentiles believe and immediately they are filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jesus’ Jewish disciples were on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
Acts 10:36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) 37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: 40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; 41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. 43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. 44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
As Dr. Geisler explains in his article (at CRI’s website equip.org) some scholars use Acts 10 to identify the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The rationale is that these Gentiles were accepted even though they had only heard a few particular truths of the Christian faith. Therefore, some scholars deduce that the truths mentioned in Acts 10 are the only doctrines that are essential for salvation.
Others point to the kerygma (proclamation) of Peter as the confessional core of New Testament Christianity. The outline of this is said to be in Peters sermon in Acts 10:36-43It has been observed that this kerygmatic paragraph contains the outline of the gospel of Mark, which many consider to be Peters gospel, since Mark was his assistant (1 Pet. 5:13) and perhaps helped Peter in its composition. The essential doctrines of the Christian faith that it mentions (numbered above) are (1) the deity of Christ, (2) the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, (3) the apostolic witness, (4) the humanity and death of Christ, (5) His bodily resurrection, (6) His bodily appearances, (7) His second coming and final judgment following, and (8) salvation by faith in Christ. – Norman L. Geisler, The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Part One), A Historical Approach, JAE100-1, http://equip.org/articles/the-essential-doctrines-of-the-christian-faith-part-one-
There are several difficulties with concluding that Acts 10:36-43 is providing an exhaustive list of essential doctrines. It is true that the passage plainly identifies many New Testament teachings that are considered critical by everyone. It mentions: Christ’s being anointed with the Holy Spirit (v. 38), Christ’s miraculous works (v. 38), God’s presence with Christ (v. 39), Christ’s death on a tree (v. 39), Christ’s resurrection from the dead (v. 40), Christ’s being made Judge of the living and the dead (v. 42), and the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ (v. 43.)
However, other critical New Testament doctrines are not clearly explained or mentioned in Acts 10. According to Geisler’s article, many scholars also conclude that Peter here mentions Christ’s deity, the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ humanity, and Jesus’ second coming. But are these doctrines actually presented by Peter in Acts 10? Certainly, some of them may be alluded to or implied depending on how one understands Peter’s references.
But, at least some of these (and other) clearly important Christian teachings are not included by Peter here in Acts 10. For example, while Christ’s being the judge of the living and the dead is made clear, His second coming is not. Concluding that Peter and the Gentiles understood that Christ would come again requires the assumption of doctrinal issues that aren’t specifically mentioned by Peter in this passage. The same is true for the personality of the Holy Spirit. While Peter clearly mentions the Holy Spirit, the idea that the Holy Spirit is a person is not plainly stated in the text – although it is perhaps implied. The same is true for Christ’s deity and the Trinity, none of which are mentioned or adequately explained in Acts 10.
In addition, Acts 10 fails to mention several other doctrines that everyone agrees are essential to the Christian faith. For instance, Acts 10 makes no mention of the incarnation, the virgin birth, Christ’s sinlessness, God as Creator of the universe, Christ’s ascension into heaven, or the eternal damnation of the unsaved. Likewise, there is no mention of the kingdom of God at all in any terms. And there is no mention of sinful behaviors that are prohibited.
Perhaps Cornelius and his household already had a solid understanding of Old Testament teachings and expectations about the Messiah. After all, they are presented as God-fearing people who were well thought of by the Jews (Acts 10:2, 22, 35.) If this is the case, then we can certainly make some safe assumptions about how Cornelius and his household would have understood Peter’s statements. If these people had a sound grasp of Old Testament teaching, then Peter wouldn’t have had to spell everything out for them. In this case, they would simply have to hear the specific parts they didn’t already know from their understanding of the Old Testament. For example, they may have understood things pertaining to the Jewish earthly Messianic kingdom from the Old Testament, which pertained to the second advent of the Messiah. All that would be missing was specific details about the more mysterious first advent of the Messiah, what it accomplished, and who the Messiah was.
These factors present us with two possible scenarios regarding the doctrines Peter mentions in Acts 10. In the first scenario we must discard the idea that Acts 10 is an exhaustive listing of essential Christian teachings because, in fact, Acts 10, does not mention or clearly present other critical doctrines. In the second scenario, we may assume that Cornelius’ household didn’t need to hear about every essential doctrine because, as devout followers of God, they already understood many of the important biblical teachings. However, we must recognize that this second scenario likewise forfeits the idea that Acts 10 provides an exhaustive list of essential doctrines. Instead, it only provides an explanation for why certain doctrines are not adequately articulated or mentioned to the Gentiles. In either case, it is apparent that Acts 10 omits some essential doctrines of the Christian faith. Since it is clear that at least some essential doctrines are not articulated or mentioned in Acts 10, Acts 10 cannot be used to establish an exhaustive list of essential doctrines.
The next passage we will turn to is Acts 15. This passage presents a difference of opinion that emerged between Paul and Barnabas and some Pharisees who believed in Christ (see verse 5). The disagreement was over whether circumcision was necessary for salvation.
Acts 15:1 And certain men which came down from Judaea taught (1321) the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension (4714) and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. 3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
The Greek words translated as “dissension” and “disputation” are “stasis” (Strong’s number 4714) and “suzetesis” (4803.)
4714 stasis
from the base of 2476; TDNT-7:568,1070; n f
AV-sedition 3, dissension 3, insurrection 1, uproar 1, standing 1; 9
1) a standing, station, state
2) an insurrection
3) strife, insurrection
4803 suzetesis
from 4802; TDNT-7:748,1099; n f
AV-disputation 1, disputing 1, reasoning 1; 3
1) mutual questioning, disputation, discussion
The first word, “stasis” is the same word used in Acts 23:7 to refer to the disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees concerning their various sectarian and schismatic doctrinal differences.
Acts 23:7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension (4714) between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided (4977.)
4977 schizo
apparently a primary verb; TDNT-7:959,1130; v
AV-rend 5, divide 2, open 1, break 1, make a rent 1; 10
1) to cleave, cleave asunder, rend
2) to divide by rending
3) to split into factions, be divided
So, here in Acts 15, we have Paul and Barnabas disputing with men who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Apparently, Paul and Barnabas were not tolerant or accepting of these men’s understanding regarding what was necessary for salvation. Neither party, in fact, was willing to simply agree to disagree. Instead, as verse 2 and 6 inform us, it was determined that they should all go to Jerusalem to decide the question with the rest of the apostles and elders.
Acts 15:4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
Again, in verse 7, we can see that the apostles and elders did not feel it was inappropriate to debate with one another about this difference of opinion. Instead, they felt it was necessary to get to the bottom of things and have an agreed upon decision as to what the correct understanding was. They made no room for sectarian doctrinal differences.
In verses 7-11, Peter argues against the Pharisaic position on the grounds that it conflicted with what Christ had taught in Acts 10:9-16, 28, and 34-48 through Acts 11:1-18. These passages recount how Peter and other Jews had been shown by God that Gentiles (who were not circumcised) had been accepted by faith and received the Holy Spirit without being circumcised. Once again, Peter was bearing witness to things he had been taught directly by Jesus. In Acts 15, Peter then demonstrates that differences of understanding can and must be resolved only by referring to what God had already taught. For Peter, no consideration was to be given to a doctrinal understanding that conflicted with what God had already declared to his apostles through Christ.
Acts 15:7 And when there had been much disputing (4803), Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
In verses 14-19, James concurs with Peter, Paul, and Barnabas’ view. He cites Peter’s experience in Acts 10-11 as support for his conclusion. But he adds Old Testament teaching from the prophets which confirmed the instruction Peter had witnessed in Acts 10-11.
Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
The conclusion of the matter is that only one understanding was approved and accepted. And the entire church, the apostles, and elders all agreed. They also wanted to ensure that the new converts and churches living in Asia Minor were also informed and clear on the correct understanding of this matter. So, they wrote letters and sent them to these churches accompanied by trusted men.
Acts 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting (396) your souls (5590), saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord (3661), to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. 30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: 31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
To be clear, Acts 15 does not give us a great deal of insight into the range of doctrinal issues that the apostles might have felt that all Christians must agree to without deviation. However, it does provide an example of the apostles following Christ’s instructions on the first issue where doctrinal differences began to emerge in the early church.
We can see that in Acts 15 the apostles and elders abided precisely by Christ’s instructions in the gospels. They came together and agree on a matter based on the fact that one of the views was not consistent with Christ’s teaching to them. In fact, virtually everyone present agreed that a contradiction of Jesus’ teaching was occurring. They rejected the contrary position and then made the effort to inform all the churches of the correct teaching. The goal here was unanimous agreement among all the churches. There was no tolerance for alternate doctrinal understandings which differed from what God had taught the apostles through Christ. This is exactly what we were expecting.
Before we leave Acts 15, we should note several of the Greek words that appear here in this chapter. In verse 24, we find the phrase “subverting your souls.” The Greek words translated as “subvert” is “anatrepo” (Strong’s number 396.)
396 anatrepo
from 303 and the base of 5157; ; v
AV-overthrow 1, subvert 1; 2
1) to overthrow, overturn, destroy
2) to subvert
We can see that the apostles felt that to have a different understanding on this issue was a serious matter. And they didn’t hesitate to condemn people who taught something different as effectively causing people to lose their salvation. We will see Paul using a similar concept to “anatrepo” later in his epistles to Timothy and Titus. We take note of this concept here in Acts 15 (where Paul was present and involved), so we can connect it to Paul’s remarks later. In both cases, we will see that the idea of “subverting” is connected to false teaching.
It is noteworthy that “overthrowing your souls” seems at least conceptually parallel to Matthew 18 in which Jesus’ describes those who “offend” and cause people to be cast into hell. The Greek word for “offend” was “skandalizo” (Strong’s No. 4624), which conveys the idea of causing someone to stumble, fall away, or lose faith.
We should also note the use of the phrase “one accord” in Acts 15:25. The Greek word used here is “homothumadon” (Strong’s number 3661.)
3661 homothumadon
from a compound of the base of 3674 and 2372; TDNT-5:185,684; adv
AV-with one accord 11, with one mind 1; 12
1) with one mind, with one accord, with one passion
We will see that, this same concept is also used in the epistles to discuss the doctrinal unity of the church. Here in Acts 15, “homothumadon” refers to the shared and unanimous agreement of the apostles and elders that there was a violation of Jesus’ teaching.
As we continue with the Book of Acts, we now turn to chapter 20. In this chapter we see Paul gather together the leaders of the church. In verses 20, 21, 24, 25, and 35, Paul discusses his ministry among these Christians.
Acts 20:17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. 18 And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, 19 Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: 20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught (1321) you publickly, and from house to house, 21 Testifying (1263) both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. 24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify (1263) the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. 26 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God…35 I have shewed you all things (3596), how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
There are several things in this passages which directly relate to Jesus’ instructions to the apostles in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1. In Matthew 28, we saw that Jesus commanded his apostles to “teaching all things whatsoever he had taught them” to “all nations.” This was equivalent to Mark’s “preach the gospel to all creation” and Acts’ “be witnesses unto Jerusalem…the uttermost part of the earth” of Jesus’ commands and “things pertaining to the kingdom.”
Paul’s remarks here repeat these phrasings. In verses 20, 21, and 35 he states that he had “held nothing back from them” and instead “taught them” “all things.” Verses 24-25 equate this to having “testified” (or witnessed) to “the gospel of the grace of God” and “preached the kingdom of God.”
The linguistic comparisons here are numerous. For instance, the Greek word translated as “showed” and “declared” in verses 20 and 27 is “anaggello” (Strong’s number 312.) This word is connected with “teaching” (“didasko, 1321) and “testifying” (“diamarturomai, 1263) in verse 21. The Greek word for “teaching” is the same as that used by Jesus in Matthew 28:20. The Greek word for “testifying” is connected to the Greek word for “witnesses” in Acts 1:8 and John 15:26-27.
We can see that in verses 20, 21, and 35 Paul is asserting that he had taught them “all things” and “held back nothing from them.” This is a fulfillment of Jesus’ instruction for the apostles to teach everything whatsoever that he had taught them. Paul clearly wants to make sure that he is blameless because he has left nothing out but faithfully fulfilled Christ’s command to teach them all things. This desire to exonerate himself gives us some idea of how important Paul felt it was to pass on every topic exactly as it had been taught, without deviation. And, because the Greek word for “testifying” is related to the Greek word for “witnesses” used in Acts 1:8 and John 15:26-27, Paul’s comments also relate to Jesus’ statement that they would be witnesses of him to the Jews and to all nations.
In verses 20, 21, and 27, we see that Paul taught the same things “publicly and in their homes” and to both “Jews and Greeks” “declaring to [them] all the council of God.” We should note that the early church predominately met in their homes. (See Acts 2:46, Acts 5:42, Acts 8:3, Acts 12:12, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 3:6, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:2.) So, for Paul to teach them from “house to house” is a reference to teaching the same things in all the churches. This is a fulfillment of Jesus’ instructions to teach all men everywhere the same things. (See Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1.)
Paul also parallels Jesus’ warning about those who would seek to mislead them. Jesus spoke about false prophets. In verses 29-30, Paul warns about “wolves” and men who would “speak perverse things” and “draw away disciples after them.”
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things (1294), to draw away (645) disciples (3100) after them.
The Greek words for “perverse things” and “drawing away” are “diastrepho” (Strong’s number 1294) and “apospao” (645.) We can see that Paul has in mind people who would say things that are distortions and corruptions of God’s word which would result in disciples being torn away from the faith.
1294 diastrepho
from 1223 and 4762; TDNT-7:717,1093; v
AV-perverse 4, pervert 2, turn away 1; 7
1) to distort, turn aside
1a) to oppose, plot against the saving purposes and plans of God
2) to turn aside from the right path, to pervert, corrupt
645 apospao
from 575 and 4685; ; v
AV-draw 1, withdraw 1, draw away 1, be gotten 1; 4
1) to draw off, tear away
The same word translated as “perverse things” is also used in Acts 13:6-12, where a false prophet sought to keep a man from the true faith, which Paul equated with the “right ways of the Lord.”
We can see that like Christ, Paul continues to exhibit a concern over those who had corrupted the correct understanding of Jesus’ teachings. In Acts 20, these perverse things are contrasted with what Paul had taught. Like Christ, Paul sought to prevent the church from being deceived by these false teachers by declaring to them all things that Christ had taught. In other words, the best way to avoid the church being led astray was for the church to understand everything plainly. And Paul states that such corruptions of the faith have drastic consequences. We will continue to see these kinds of statements throughout the rest of the New Testament. We should note here that Paul repeatedly speaks in broad and general terms about all of Christ’s teachings. Like Christ, Paul nowhere limits his concern to only a limited set of doctrines. 
Earlier, we noted that the gospel record of Jesus’ teachings on unity, doctrine, and excommunication led us to expect several things from the apostles’ ministries. We listed these expectations as follows.
1. We would expect to see the apostles teaching the exact same things to all Christians everywhere on all topics that the gospels record Christ taught the apostles about.
2. We would expect to see the apostles exhibit an intolerance for sectarian differences of opinion on Christian teaching.
3. We would expect any sectarian tendencies to be rebuked and corrected through appeals to a universal faith taught by the apostles everywhere on everything.
4. We would expect to find Christian brothers excommunicated for any violation of any of Christ’s teachings and for having understandings of Christ’s teachings which differed from what the apostles taught to the churches everywhere.
5. We would expect to see the apostles instruct others not to teach anything different than what they themselves were commanded to teach by Christ.
Our study of the Book of Acts has not provided explicit insight into the total range of doctrines which the apostles required Christians to agree upon unanimously. And we have not seen any instance of excommunication. However, we have seen clear and repeated evidence of the apostles acting in accordance with the first two expectations created by the gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings. We saw evidence that the apostles taught the same things to everyone everywhere. And we have seen the apostles refuse to allow doctrinal differences on things Christ had taught them about. Furthermore, we have yet to find any indications that the apostles felt that only a limited set of Jesus’ teachings were necessary for all Christians to uniformly agree to and understand.
Similarly, we can provide an assessment of the apostolic ministry in the Book of Acts in regards to our two basic questions on unity and division.
Acts 2:41-42 confirms expectations from Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 18, Matthew 28, Mark 16, Acts 1, and John 8:31. All of these passages teach that Christian fellowship (and salvation) is conditional upon receiving and continuing in all of the things that Jesus taught the apostles.
From Acts 15 we can see that the apostles (Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James) and elders did not tolerate doctrinal differences of opinion on the issue of whether or not salvation required keeping the Law of Moses. Instead, the apostles were willing to express their difference of opinion from those who taught something that differed from what they understood Jesus taught. Although this example is limited, it is consistent with our expectations from Jesus’ teaching.
The apostles didn’t feel they were restricted from differing and expressing their disagreement with others’ points of view. Instead, they felt compelled to differ and disagree with those whose views weren’t consistent with their understanding of God’s word. We can see then that the apostles apparently had no problem or reservation about dividing with and disputing with those offering divergent understandings of Christ’s teaching. In other words, the apostles didn’t have any particular aversion to division. Rather, for them it was entirely acceptable to disagree, dispute with, and divide from others whose views were incorrect.
Likewise, Acts 15 shows us that the apostolic understanding itself was not and can never be considered one sectarian view among other competing sectarian views. There were certainly differing opinions represented by various Christians in Acts 15. However, only the non-apostolic view constituted a sectarian difference. The apostolic understanding was simply the truth. In other words, those who had a different understanding from that of the apostles were the sectarians. They were the ones causing division by differing from the apostolic understanding. The apostles weren’t causing division or forming a sect by disagreeing with and disputing with those who held to different understandings.
Furthermore, it is apparent that the apostles felt it was important for all churches to have the same understanding (to be “of one accord”) on this topic since they sent letters out to the churches in Asia Minor to inform them of the correct position. This fits with an expectation of universal uniformity of belief. Though again, in Acts 15, this is only applied to the specific issue of keeping the Law of Moses.
Likewise, Paul’s comments in Acts 20 also express the need to teach everything that Christ had taught to everyone universally. And he also warns against those who would teach things contrary to what he had taught. His description of his own teaching as inclusive of “all things” indicates that he was concerned about any perversion of literally anything he had taught. His remarks are unrestricted and general rather than selective and limited. Again, this reinforces our expectation that the apostles were intolerant of opinions and points of view which differed from Christ’s teaching on all things. Church unity was to be doctrinally all-inclusive. No doctrinal topic was to be left out, just as Paul did not leave any out.
To be clear, the Book of Acts doesn’t provide any direct instances or statements on excommunication. Therefore, our listing of excommunicable issues based on the Book of Acts is very limited. The material we’ve examined only permits us to conclude that excommunication was applied to those who taught that salvation required keeping the Law of Moses. We might also strongly consider that excommunication would have been necessary for any who would pervert what Paul taught to the churches, which included “all things” and did not leave out anything. Likewise, Acts 2 provides evidence that Christian fellowship was conditional upon receiving and remaining in whatsoever the apostles taught in the earliest church.
Having concluded our survey of Acts we will now turn to Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
Romans: Requirements for Doctrinal Unity and Excommunication
The epistle to the Romans contains several passages which relate to our study of unity and excommunication in the New Testament.
Earlier in our study we covered Jesus’ use of the metaphor of the body in Matthew 18. In that passage, Jesus discusses various parts of the body being involved in sinful behaviors.
Matthew 18:8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
We also saw that in the next section of Matthew 18, Jesus discussed excommunication of Christians from the church. 
Similarly, Paul begins Romans 12 by instructing Christians to present their bodies as holy and acceptable to God.

Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.


Just three verses later, Paul applies the metaphor of the body to the church.


Romans 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another
It is worth noting that Paul’s comments in this chapter parallel Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18 very closely. First, there is the idea of the body being sinful or holy. Then there is the discussion of the church as a body. By applying the metaphor of the body to the church, Paul confirms that Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 18:6-9 were related to his teachings in Matthew 18:15-20. Later in Romans, Paul will instruct Christians on excommunication. So, in three ways Paul shows a familiarity and application of Christ’s teachings in Matthew 18.
In verse of Romans 12, Paul refers to something as “proportion of faith.”
Romans 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion (356) of faith;
The Greek word translated as “proportion” is “analogia” (356.) It occurs only one time in the New Testament. And it is composed of the Greek preposition “ana” (303) meaning “among, in the midst, or between” and the Greek noun “logos” (3056) which most commonly refers to words and sayings.
356 analogia
from a compound of 303 and 3056; TDNT-1:347,56; n f
AV-proportion 1; 1
1) proportion
303 ana
a primary prep and adv; ; prep
AV-by 3, apiece 2, every man 2, each 1, several 1, two and two + 1417 1, among 1, through 1, between 1, by 1, in 1; 15
1) into the midst, in the midst, amidst, among, between
3056 logos
from 3004; TDNT-4:69,505; n m
AV-word 218, saying 50, account 8, speech 8, Word (Christ) 7, thing 5, not tr 2, misc 32; 330
1) of speech
1a) a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a conception or idea
1b) what someone has said
1b1) a word
1b2) the sayings of God
1b3) decree, mandate or order
1b4) of the moral precepts given by God
In the New Testament, “logos” is used to refer to Jesus’ teachings. (For examples, see Matthew 7:26-28, Matthew 13:19-23, Matthew 19:1, Matthew 19:11, Matthew 26:1, John 5:24, John 8:31, John 8:51-52, and John 14:23-24.)
We can therefore, understand “analogia” to refer to the idea of that which is “within the words of faith.” Likewise, the word “translated as “faith” is “pistis” (4102.) Which we already know is used in general in the New Testament to refer to Christian beliefs and the teachings of Christ. Therefore, in verse 6, Paul is limiting what those with prophetic gifts should and could say to things which are according to what is within the words and teachings of Christ. Paul’s remarks here fit very well with Jesus’ warnings about false prophets who would speak falsely about the word of God. Here, Paul takes a similar idea and instructs Christian prophets to only say things that are in accordance with the Christian faith. We can see then that both Paul and Jesus reject the possibility that Christians could legitimately prophesy new truths that diverge from what Jesus taught the apostles.
As we move forward in Romans, we come to the first verse of chapter 14. Here we have a passage which records Christians having different positions on something. The topic of this chapter is Jewish dietary restrictions and feast days.
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak (770) in the faith (4102) receive ye (4355), but not to doubtful (1261) disputations (253). 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
In Rome there apparently were some Christians who were continuing to keep Old Testament dietary customs and feast days. And there were other Christians who were eating whatever and not esteeming any particular days as feasts. And yet Paul instructs both parties to receive one another (verse 1.) The word translated as “receive” here is the Greek verb “proslambano” (Strong’s number 4355) which conveys the idea of New Testament Christian fellowship.
4355 proslambano
from 4314 and 2983; TDNT-4:15,495; v
AV-receive 7, take 5, take unto 2; 14
1) to take to, take in addition, to take to one’s self
1a) to take as one’s companion
1b) to take by the hand in order to lead aside
1c) to take or receive into one’s home, with the collateral idea of kindness
1d) to receive, i.e. grant one access to one’s heart
1d1) to take into friendship and intercourse
1e) to take to one’s self, to take: i.e. food
Because of this some might suggest that Romans 14 is an example of Christians being allowed to have different understandings of Christ’s teaching. Or, perhaps it is an example of Christians with the correct understanding being required to accept those who thought differently. After all, Paul specifically states in verse 14 that Christ taught that all food was clean. (Jesus’ teaching on this is found in Matthew 15:10-20 and Mark 7:17-23.) So, a there was a definite correct understanding that keeping Old Testament dietary and festival laws wasn’t required.
Romans 14:14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
In fact, Romans 14 is not an instance of sectarian differences over something Christ taught. And it is not an instance where Christians are told to accept others whose views violated the correct understanding of Christian doctrine. In point of fact, no one in Romans is presented as violating any teaching of Christ and, consequently, neither party was allowed to divide from the other.
One group is continuing to eat only what Jews were accustomed to eating under Old Testament Law. They were also continuing to celebrate Mosaic feast days. This, of course, was no sin. There is no command from Christ or the apostles that Christians couldn’t continue to keep Old Testament feast days or eat only certain foods. Christ made it permissible to eat various things that were forbidden in the Old Testament. But in no way did he require his followers to eat these things. Here merely stated that eating them brought no defilement. The same is true regarding Jewish feast days. They were no longer required. But Jesus’ followers weren’t required to abstain from them. Consequently, neither party was violating Jesus’ teaching.
In fact, the New Testament reports that Jewish followers of Christ often continued to keep certain aspects of the Law of Moses after coming to faith in Jesus.
Acts 21:17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. 19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
Likewise, the New Testament provides examples of the apostles themselves continuing to keep aspects of Mosaic Law at various times. Acts 21 provides an example of Paul himself taking a vow in accordance with the Law of Moses.
Acts 21:21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. 22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. 23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. 25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication. 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them. 27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, 28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
Likewise, in Acts 10 Peter received a vision from God telling him to eat unclean things. In response, Peter stated that he had never done so in his life. As was apparently the case with some Christians in Rome, this was Peter’s practice as a Jew despite the fact that Christ had already declared all food to be clean. (Again see Matthew 15:10-20 and Mark 7:17-23.)
Acts 10:9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: 10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, 11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: 12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. 15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
However, we know from Acts 15, that despite the fact that Peter had kept the Jewish dietary laws, he did not teach that this was required of Christ’s followers. So, keeping Jewish dietary laws and feast days was not a violation of Christ’s teaching. But neither was eating things forbidden by the Law of Moses. Likewise, failure to keep Old Testament feast days was not a violation of Christ’s teaching.
There are only two things mentioned here that would violate Christ’s teachings. The first is judging people who were not violating Christ’s teachings. The second would be requiring Christians to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.
We have already seen from Acts 15, that the apostles and elders disputed with those who claimed that keeping the Law of Moses was required for salvation. Contrary to the views offered by some Christian Pharisees, the apostles and elders unanimously recognized that, according to Jesus’ teaching, Christians did not need to keep dietary restrictions and feast days required by the Old Testament. (Acts 21:25 also reports on this fact.)
Unless some Christians in Rome were violating Jesus’ teaching, we cannot conclude that Romans 14 is an instance where Christians with correct teaching are required to accept Christians with different views. In point of fact, neither group represented in Romans 14 is depicted as having views or practices that violated Christ’s teaching or differed from apostolic instruction.
In verses 1-10, Paul specifically prohibits both groups from judging each other regarding these differences. This means that Paul did not allow those who were keeping Jewish dietary laws and feast days to condemn others for not doing so. Like Peter, it was acceptable for these Christians to keep Jewish dietary laws as long as they understood that doing so was not required for salvation.
We must therefore be clear that Paul’s restriction against judging isn’t founded on the idea of tolerance for views that diverged from Christ’s teaching. Rather, his restriction against judging is precisely because both groups were being consistent with Christ’s teaching. Christ neither required Old Testament dietary and festival laws, nor did he require breaking them. According to Christ’s teaching it was acceptable to do either. Here we must keep in mind that the central question is to what extent Christians should fellowship or divide over differences of opinion regarding those things that Christ taught. No one is arguing for division over topics that Christ gave no direct teaching or restriction on. Such things were open to each person’s individual judgment and decisions, including dietary laws and Jewish festivals. Therefore, in verse 1 of chapter 14, Paul can instruct the Romans to receive one another without judging one another over these matters.
Romans 14:1 Him that is weak (770) in the faith (4102) receive ye (4355), but not to doubtful (1261) disputations (253).
In the English, the phrase “doubtful disputations” is a translation of two Greek words. The first is “dialogismos” (1261), which is translated as “doubtful.”
1261 dialogismos
from 1260; TDNT-2:96,155; n m
AV-thought 9, reasoning 1, imagination 1, doubtful 1, disputing 1, doubting 1; 14
1) the thinking of a man deliberating with himself
1a) a thought, inward reasoning
1b) purpose, design
2) a deliberating, questioning about what is true
2a) hesitation, doubting
2b) disputing, arguing
The second word is “diakrisis” (1253), which is translated “disputations.”
1253 diakrisis
from 1252; TDNT-3:949,469; n f
AV-discerning 1, discern 1, disputation 1; 3
1) a distinguishing, discerning, judging
A survey of the usage of these words in the New Testament shows that the first word “dialogismos” (1261) typically refers to one’s inner thoughts or reasonings. The Greek noun “diakrisis” (1223) is only used on three occasions in the New Testament. In each case it conveys the idea of “making a distinction between.” However, we can get a sense of its meaning through a survey of the Greek verb it is derived from, “diakrino” (1252.)
1252 diakrino
from 1223 and 2919; TDNT-3:946,469; v
AV-doubt 5, judge 3, discern 2, contend 2, waver 2, misc 5; 19
1) to separate, make a distinction, discriminate, to prefer
2) to learn by discrimination, to try, decide
2a) to determine, give judgment, decide a dispute
3) to withdraw from one, desert
4) to separate one’s self in a hostile spirit, to oppose, strive with dispute, contend
5) to be at variance with one’s self, hesitate, doubt
Coupling these two Greek words together we have the idea of having doubts about, judging, or looking down upon someone’s reasoning. In this case, Paul is telling the Roman Christians to receive each other in spite of differing reasonings where Christ’s teaching gave no specific restrictions. The NIV, NASB, and Young’s Literal Translation bring out the meaning of the KJV’s phrasing “doubtful disputations” as “passing judgment on someone’s reasonings.”
Romans 14:1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.
Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
Young's Literal Translation
Romans 14:1 And him who is weak in the faith receive ye -- not to determinations of reasonings;
Because the reasonings of both groups were consistent with Christ’s teaching, neither group was to judge the other and both were to receive one another. As stated earlier, it was not forbidden for a Christian to keep Jewish dietary laws or feast days. Neither was it wrong for a Christian to set aside those laws and not esteem particular holy days. From this passages then we can only conclude that Christians are allowed to differ where Christ permitted both positions, topics where Christ did not give any restrictions.
A similar, but perhaps clearer example of this type of situation would be the issue of marriage and remaining single. Though Christians were permitted to get married, Christ and the apostles taught that it was preferable to remain single. (See Matthew 19:7-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:7-9.) For this reason, in some ways it took greater fortitude to remain single. However, Christians who remained single were not allowed to judge or look down on those who got married (provided that their marriages conformed to Christ’s teachings.) Marriage was an acceptable and allowable choice under Christ’s teaching.
Alternatively, those who got married could not judge those who remained single. For this too was allowed by Christ. Both groups have to receive one another without judging the other. Though they had different personal reasonings as to which was better (marriage or the single life), this did not constitute sectarian differences of understanding on Jesus’ teaching because Jesus’ teaching specifically allowed for either choice.
In Romans 14, Paul explains that the same is true with regard to keeping Jewish dietary regulations and feast days. Christians could keep these things or not keep them. Both were acceptable under Christ’s teaching. Therefore, neither party could judge the other or refuse them fellowship for their personal decisions on the matter.
We must be careful to recognize that these situations are in no way similar or equitable to situations in which one party’s views or behavior contradicts Christ’s teaching or differs from the understanding that Christ intended. It would be illogical to suggest that because Christ’s teaching allowed a person to either marry or remain single that one could likewise (for instance) justly choose either to fornicate or not fornicate. The two scenarios are clearly and inherently different. In one case both options are allowed under Christ’s teaching (marriage and remaining single.) In the other, one of the options is contrary to Christ’s teaching (fornication.) It would be a mistake, therefore, to equate them.
Likewise, Romans 14 is an instance of two options which were both allowed by Christ’s teaching. Therefore, neither party could judge or excommunicate the other. It is not an instance of Christians being told to accept and fellowship with others whose views differed from and violated the teaching of Christ and his apostles.   
Therefore, Romans 14 doesn’t conflict with expectations for absolute doctrinal unity because it doesn’t contain any instance of Christians advocating views which differed from Christ’s teaching. Because this is the case, Paul’s instructions for Christians to receive one another and not judge each other simply demand what we have safely concluded from other passages. Christians must fellowship with other Christians who are in sync with the correct understanding of Christ’s teachings.
Effectively, Romans 14 is a situation in which Paul is instructing the church to adhere to the teaching of Christ and the apostles, which allowed Christians the freedom to either keep Old Testament dietary laws and feast days or not. As such this passage is another instance of an apostle requiring conformity to Christ’s teaching as the apostles had understood it. On the other hand, for either group to refuse fellowship with the other over this issue would have constituted a violation of Christ’s teaching because Christ did not allow excommunication unless his teaching was being violated.
The next passage we will cover is Romans 15. In Romans 15:5-7, Paul provides some additional remarks on unity and receiving other Christians.
Romans 15:5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded (846) (5426) one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 That ye may with one (3661) mind and one (1520) mouth (4750) glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Wherefore receive (4355) ye one another, as Christ also received (4355) us to the glory of God.
The word “likeminded” (in verse 5) is actually translated from two Greek words. The first is “autos” (Strong’s number 846) which in this case means “the same.”
846 autos
from the particle au [perhaps akin to the base of 109 through the idea of a baffling wind] (backward); ; pron
AV-him 1952, his 1084, their 318, he 253, her 242, they 121, same 80, himself 58, misc 1679; 5787
1) himself, herself, themselves, itself
2) he, she, it
3) the same
The second word is “phroneo” (5426) which refers to our “understanding, thoughts, opinions, judgments” and can convey the idea of harmonious agreement and shared point of view.
5426 phroneo
from 5424; TDNT-9:220,1277; v
AV-think 5, regard 4, mind 3, be minded 3, savour 2, be of the same mind + 846 2, be like minded + 846 2, misc 8; 29
1) to have understanding, be wise
2) to feel, to think
2a) to have an opinion of one’s self, think of one’s self, to be modest, not let one’s opinion (though just) of himself exceed the bounds of modesty
2b) to think or judge what one’s opinion is
2c) to be of the same mind i.e. agreed together, cherish the same views, be harmonious
3) to direct one’s mind to a thing, to seek, to strive for
3a) to seek one’s interest or advantage
3b) to be of one’s party, side with him (in public affairs)
In verse 6, Paul provides further insight into his meaning by instructing Christians to glorify God by being of “one mind” and “one mouth.” The phrase “one mind” is translated from the single Greek word “homothumadon” which refers to the idea of having a single, shared purpose. It is the same word used in Acts 15:25 where the apostles wish to convey their universal agreement that it was not necessary to keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved and their agreement to inform the other churches that this was the correct understanding.
3661 homothumadon
from a compound of the base of 3674 and 2372; TDNT-5:185,684; adv
AV-with one accord 11, with one mind 1; 12
1) with one mind, with one accord, with one passion
In verse 7 of Romans 15, Paul instructs the Christians to receive one another. This is the same word Paul used in Romans 14:1. It is the Greek verb “proslambano” (Strong’s number 4355.) Paul’s discussion of Jewish dietary and festival laws in chapter 14 concluded in the opening two verses of chapter 15. Now, just four verses later in chapter 15, verses 6-7, Paul tells the Christians to be of the same mind and to receive one another.
These verses express a connection between having the same mind and receiving one another. Accepting other Christians is here being discussed in the context of having the same understanding and purpose. As we have seen, the idea of receiving one another relates to fellowship. Therefore, this passage is consistent with what we have learned elsewhere. The idea is that fellowship is dependent upon agreement and shared understanding. This is very much what Jesus’ conveys in Matthew 18 where he authorizes the apostles to excommunicate others based on their shared understanding of his teachings.
Lastly, we come to Romans 16:17. This is the first passage (after the gospels) that provides teaching on excommunication directly. The final chapter of his epistle to the Romans begins with 16 verses containing salutations to various Christians that Paul knew. In verse 17, Paul communicates a final piece of instruction which relates to our study.
Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions (1370) and offences (4625) contrary to the doctrine (1322) which ye have learned; and avoid (1578) them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
In verse 17, the Greek word that is translated as “divisions” is “dichostasia” (Strong’s number 1370.)
1370 dichostasia
from a derivative of 1364 and 4714; TDNT-1:514,88; n f
AV-division 2, sedition 1; 3
1) dissension, division
This Greek noun is a compound word formed from the Greek word for “twice” (“dis,” Strong’s number 1364) and the Greek word “stasis” (4714.) Earlier we saw that Acts 15:2 used “stasis” (4714) to describe the Paul’s disagreement with those who required Christians to be circumcised. Likewise, Acts 23:7-10 used “stasis” (4714) to refer to the differences between the opinions held by the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Here in Romans 16:17, Paul couples sectarian divisions with the Greek word “skandalon” (4625) which is translated as “offenses.” This Greek noun and its related verb form (skandalizo, 4624) are the same words used by Christ in Matthew 18 where he teaches on cutting off and separating members of the body that are involved in sin and cause offense. We must keep in mind here that “skandalizo” conveys the idea of falling away, so like Jesus, Paul has in mind the idea that diverging opinions draw people away from the one, true faith taught by Jesus Christ.
In verse 17 of Romans 16, Paul specifically tells Christians to mark particular persons. The Greek word translated “mark” is “skopeo” (Strong’s number 4648.) This Greek verb conveys the idea of observation, noticing, and taking heed of something.
4648 skopeo
from 4649; TDNT-7:414,1047; v
AV-mark 2, take heed 1, look on 1, look at 1, consider 1; 6
1) to look at, observe, contemplate
2) to mark
3) to fix one’s eyes upon, direct one’s attention to, any one
4) to look to, take heed to thyself
According to Paul then, Christians aren’t to ignore or be unconcerned about differing opinions. Instead, we are to contemplate these things and be attentive to these matters.
Furthermore, the word translated as “avoid” is the Greek verb “ekklino” (Strong’s number 1578) which means “to turn away from, shun, or keep aloof from one’s society.”
1578 ekklino
from 1537 and 2827; ; v
AV-eschew 1, avoid 1, go out of the way 1; 3
1) to turn aside, deviate (from the right way and course)
2) to turn (one’s self) away, to turn away from, keep aloof from one’s society
3) to shun one
As we will see in our upcoming section on Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Paul certainly was familiar with Christ’s teaching on excommunication in Matthew 18. Likewise, he clearly has excommunication in mind here in Romans 16 as he instructs Christians to avoid and shun those who divide from sound teaching and cause offenses. As will be the case in Corinthians, Paul’s wording parallels Christ’s instruction in Matthew 18 fairly closely. His concept of avoiding and shunning from society coupled with “offense” indicate that this is the case.
The most important question about Romans 16:17-18 is this: for what does Paul require avoiding and shunning (excommunication)? As we said, the opening 16 verses of this chapter are comprised of salutations to various persons. Therefore, verses 17-18 are not preceded by any discussion of a theological concern that can be used as a contextual cue for limiting the scope of excommunication.
Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. 7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
8 Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. 9 Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. 11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. 12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. 13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. 15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. 16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
Likewise, the verses that follow verse 17-18 are equally devoid of any discussion of particular Christian doctrines.
Romans 16:19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. 21 Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. 22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord. 23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother. 24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: 27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
As we can see Paul plainly instructs the Romans to excommunicate (avoid and shun). However, he makes no mention of any particular doctrinal issue or concern. Instead, he only gives broad qualifications for excommunication. We are told to mark and avoid those who “through good words and fair speeches deceive” and who have differing opinions contrary to the teaching (doctrine) that the apostles had taught. This reference indicates that Paul has false teachings in mind. In verse 25 and 26, Paul speaks of “the gospel,” “the preaching of Jesus Christ,” and “the commandment of God made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith.” Again, Paul’s language parallels the teachings of Christ in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1 where we saw Jesus instruct the apostles to teach all nations all things whatsoever that he had taught them. These are reasons to conclude that Paul is including all topics of Christian teaching as excommunicable if deviation occurs.
For Paul, excommunication was applicable to anyone who taught things that differed from what the church had learned from the apostles. The question was: for what does Paul require excommunication? The answer is that Paul required excommunication for teaching things contrary to what the apostles taught. To know what issues Paul has in mind as excommunicable, we simply need to survey the New Testament for things that the apostles taught to the churches. Obviously, this will be a large list that encompasses everything taught in the New Testament (including many things that an Essentials Only View prohibits Christians from excommunicating over.)
Just for reference, here is a list of topics that the apostle Paul taught Roman Christians about in this epistle. Romans 16:17 clearly indicates that a Christian should be excommunicated for having a divergent view of any of these subjects (which the Romans had learned about from Paul).
1. Jesus was the Christ, God come in the flesh as a descendent of David – Romans 1.
2. Physical resurrection from the dead – Romans 1, 6, and 8.
3. The same faith was taught to all nations. The gospel and salvation were the same for Jews and Gentiles alike – Romans 1, Romans 3:22, Romans 10:12.
4. Various sinful behaviors are prohibited. There is discussion on the effects of sin and not continuing in it – Romans 1, 5-7, 8, and 12.
5. Old and New Testament requirements, the end of the Law of Moses, the changing of covenants, and faith in Christ, and how people come to faith in Christ by hearing and believing those who were sent (i.e., the apostles.) – Romans 3-4 and Romans 10.
6. Salvation through Christ’s atoning work - Romans 3 and 5.
7. Our inheritance in the kingdom of God and the renewal of the earth – Romans 4, Romans 8:21.
8. Adultery and remarriage – Romans 7:1-4.
9. God’s foreknowledge and how it works with regard to who will be saved and God’s purpose in Christ – Romans 8.
10. How election works, resisting God’s will, and God’s plan for Israel – Romans 9.
11. Adoption by faith, being broken off through disbelief, and being reinstated by believing again – Romans 11.
12. The church as a body and how we are to work together and treat each other – Romans 12.
13. Pacifism and living at peace with men, not participating in the administration civil justice (vengeance), obeying those who have political authority over us, paying taxes, and being honest – Romans 12-13.
14. Jewish dietary restrictions and feast day requirements from the Law of Moses, building up the understanding of other Christians, and not judging others for things that are permitted by Christ’s teaching – Romans 14.
The scope of these topics spans the range of Christian theology. More importantly, Paul discusses important issues which even mainstream denominations today differ over and which are typically considered open to differing interpretations. These doctrinal issues include teaching on: a) adultery and remarriage, b) soteriological issues involving in the dispute between Calvinism and Free Will, c) teachings on the kingdom of God and salvation for Jews and Gentiles (involving various disagreements over the nature of the kingdom and who receives what in Christ,) and d) pacifism, paying taxes, and involvement in government and warfare.
We cannot overstate the significance of Paul’s instructions here in Romans 16:17. He is clearly instructing Christians to excommunicate. And his instructions are not limited to a select set of “central” Christian teachings. To the contrary, Paul explicitly requires excommunication for anyone teaching anything contrary to what the apostles taught in the churches on virtually any subject taught about in the New Testament.
In verses 25-26, Paul refers to the general body of what the apostles taught with the phrases “the gospel,” “the preaching of Jesus Christ,” and “the commandment of God made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith.” These phrases are references to Christ’s instructions in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Act 1 wherein the apostles were to teach to all new converts everywhere all the things whatsoever that Christ had taught them. Those passages revealed that the phrase “all things whatsoever Christ taught” was equivalent to “the gospel,” “things pertaining to the kingdom,” and “commandments Christ gave to the apostles.” Therefore, Paul’s instructions in Romans 16 are following Christ’s instructions in Matthew 18, Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Acts 1 precisely. Both Jesus and Paul taught Christians about many doctrinal issues. Both required Christ’s followers to teach only what the apostles taught them. And both instructed excommunication broadly rather than with restrictions to only a select set of particular teachings.
Having finished our study of Romans we will summarize this book’s instructions regarding unity and division.
Throughout the epistle to the Romans, Paul provides some indications about Christian unity. His application of Jesus’ metaphor of the body to the church implies a strong desire for unity. However, like Christ, Paul allows for circumstances in which a part of the body may need to be cut off. He also speaks of “likemindedness,” having the same understanding as one another, and receiving those who are living in accordance with Christ’s teachings. All of these things fit with what we have seen earlier in our study of the gospels and Acts.
The most informative passage in Romans is chapter 16. Romans 16:17 makes it clear that Paul understood and condemned division not simply as separation, but as divergence from apostolic teaching. Therefore, in Paul’s view those who kept apostolic teaching cannot be considered divisive for separating from those who diverge from apostolic teaching. Paul also directly instructs Christians to mark, shun, and avoid anyone who taught things contrary to what the apostles taught. With these remarks, Paul defines Christian unity as adherence to all the things that the apostles taught. And he authorizes excommunication for those who diverged from all the things that the apostles taught. A listing of just the items that Paul himself taught the Romans is quite extensive and incorporates several important theological issues that Christian denominations today diverge from one another over. It is clear then that Paul’s conception of what was essential for fellowship differed from that of the modern church and included many doctrinal issues that an Essentials Only View typically labels as nonessential.
Once again, below is a simple list of the doctrinal issues that Paul wrote about to the Romans before he concluded with his open-ended instructions to excommunicate anyone for teaching anything that diverged from what they’d learned from the apostles.
Christians are to mark, avoid, and shun anyone who taught something different than what the apostles taught on:
a) Jesus Christ,
b) the incarnation,
c) Christ’s Davidic lineage,
d) the physical resurrection of the dead after the model of Christ,
e) the same gospel and inheritance for all nations, Jew and Gentile alike,
f) various sinful behaviors,
g) issues regarding the changing of the covenants and allowances regarding Jewish dietary laws and feast days,
h) the kingdom, our inheritance, and the renewal of the earth,
i) adultery and remarriage,
j) God’s foreknowledge, how election works, resisting God’s will,
k) adoption by faith, being broken off through disbelief, and being reinstated by faith,
l) the church as a body,
m) pacifism, living at peace with men, not participating in the administration civil justice (vengeance), obeying those who have political authority over us, paying taxes, and
n) being honest.
We have only finished with Romans and yet we have already seen our expectations being met regarding apostolic teaching on excommunication and doctrinal unity. After studying Christ’s teaching we expected that the apostles would likely to require excommunication for any divergence from anything that the apostles taught on any subject. Here we see Paul doing precisely that. We will see further information on unity and excommunication in later New Testament passages. But what we have already from the gospels and particularly Romans has grown our list of excommunicable issues well beyond the Essentials Only View. Likewise, it is apparent that Paul did not allow tolerance for differing views on the large number of doctrinal issues that the modern church does not think Christians need to agree about.
Having finished our study of Romans, we will now turn to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians where we will find additional clear information of Paul’s demand for total doctrinal unity as well as his expansive application of excommunication in fulfillment of Jesus’ instructions in the gospels.