Tag: Bible-Smart (Page 2 of 5)

What Does Matthew 18:18 Mean, “Whatever You Bind on Earth”?

Scripture: Matthew 18:18

By my count, Jesus made over 350 promises that are recorded in the New Testament. Some of them are comforting, such as “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47, NIV). Some are frightening: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42, NIV). And let’s face it: some are simply hard to understand.

Matthew 18:18 (NIV) fits into that last category. It records Jesus as saying, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

What exactly does that mean for us today? Let’s explore this by asking three related questions: 1. What was the context? 2. For whom was the promise intended? and 3. What did “bind on earth” mean to the original hearers?

1. What Was the Context for Matthew 18:18?

Matthew indicates that Jesus made his binding-and-loosing statement privately to his disciples, while they were in a home in Capernaum (see Matthew 17:24, 25, and 18:1). Apparently a family was there too because at one point Jesus “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them” (Matthew 18:2, NIV). Bible historians from Reader’s Digest have established that Jesus typically stayed with Simon Peter’s family when in Capernaum, so that’s likely where they were—in Peter’s house.

While there, the disciples posed this question to Jesus: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1, NIV). All of Matthew 18:3-20 is Jesus’ wide-ranging response to that single query. His answer included: a) a child’s example of greatness (18:3-4); b) danger of causing a child to stumble (18:5-7); c) hyperbolic warning against temptations (18:8-9); d) the parable of the Wandering Sheep (18:10-14), and finally, e) instructions for dealing with persistent sin in the church (18:15-20).

So, in the broad sense, the context of Jesus’ binding-and-loosing promise of Matthew 18:18 was part of a larger explanation of heavenly greatness. In the more specific sense, it was practical, relational advice about how to address persistent sin among believers.

2. For Whom Was the Promise of Matthew 18:18 Intended?

Once, while researching my book, The Promises of Jesus, I spent a significant amount of time combing through all of the New Testament in an attempt to identify every single promise Jesus made. What I discovered was that there were three categories:

1. Promises made to everyone, including us (i.e. “whosoever will…);

2. Promises made to specific people for a specific time (for instance, John 11:23, when Jesus told Martha that her brother Lazarus would rise again); and

3. Promises made directly to his disciples—which may or may not be for everyone.

Knowing the context of Matthew 18:15-20, it’s no surprise to discover that 18:18 is a promise made directly to Jesus’ disciples. That leads to the question of whether or not the disciples’ promise also applies to us as well? It’s exegetically possible to interpret Matthew 18:15-20 as being only for Christ’s original disciples, but clues in Jesus’ language and the witness of Scripture as a whole seem to indicate that this promise is as much for us as it was for them.

First, Jesus spoke of “the church” before it was formally created. While it’s true that this could have referred in general terms to the synagogue or temple assembly, it’s also true that the mention of “brother or sister” (verse 15) likely indicates Jesus was referring specifically to his followers, those Christ-believers who would make up his church in history. However, his official church as we know it wouldn’t have its dynamic beginning until the Day of Pentecost after Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 2). Second, although Matthew 18:19 speaks specifically to Christ’s disciples who were present at the time, Matthew 18:20 (NIV) delivers a related, generalized spiritual principle that Jesus applied in a timeless way: “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Finally, the Apostle Paul seemed to have enacted Jesus’ instructions from Matthew 18:15-20 in a situation within the church at Corinth—a situation that clearly extended outside of the original disciples (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 and 6:1-8).

So, although Jesus’ binding-and-loosing promise was made directly to the first 12 disciples, it seems safe to assume it also has application for us, and for all Christians in history.

3. What Did “Bind on Earth” Mean to the Original Hearers?

Now we can get to the crux of the question: What was Jesus talking about when he said, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”? How would his original hearers have understood that phrasing? To discover this we need to look at both the cultural and linguistic context of the terms.

It’s important to note the intimate fellowship of the circumstance Jesus described. “If your brother or sister sins…” (Matthew 18:15, NIV, italics mine). This brother-or-sister phrase emphasized the important relational aspect of the binding-and-loosing promise which followed. With that in mind, N.T. (Tom) Wright, in Matthew For Everyone Part Two, reveals what should be obvious but is often overlooked: Matthew 18:15-20 is not about punishment, but about reconciliation among family members of faith.

New Testament scholar, Craig Evans, writes in his commentary on Matthew that Jesus’ goal was, “to restore right relationships and fellowship.” He adds, “Proper process is taught, as well as the willingness to forgive—repeatedly if necessary.” In Jesus’ time, this process would’ve played out as a judicial proceeding within the Jewish synagogue assembly; for us it’s less formal, but no less important.

Within this judicial framework the terms “bind” and “loose” (or “forbid” and “permit” in the NLT) would’ve carried specific meaning in the minds of Jesus’ original disciples. Evans explains, “‘Binding and loosing’ normally refer to forbidding and permitting. In the present case … the reference is to convicting and acquitting.” In other words, when he spoke Matthew 18:18 Jesus transferred an aspect of his heavenly authority to a small group of his followers, empowering them with agency to make decisions about whether to convict or acquit another believer who is charged with persistent sin.

So, What Does “Whatever You Bind on Earth” Mean for Us Today?

Matthew 18:18 is not simply a promise, but also a grave responsibility for those who are leaders in a church. It deals directly with the issue of reconciliation that Jesus described in Matthew 18:15-17, and indirectly with the idea of greatness in the kingdom of God that was his larger topic at the time (Matthew 18:1-14).

When Jesus spoke of binding and loosing, then, he appeared to be saying that his heavenly authority to call for righteous living among his followers had been extended to his people, the church. This delegated authority is a trust from God himself. It is not a temporal power to be wielded with heavy hand, personal agenda, or political intent. The ultimate goal in every situation must be for grace and reconciliation among the members of our family in Christ.

So, in our modern-day context, that means…

When wronged we’re first to take our grievances directly to our brother or sister. Failing to reconcile, we’re to bring two or three witnesses and try once more (see also Deuteronomy 19:15). Again failing to reconcile, we’re bring it to our church body for resolution. For us today that would likely mean our local church leadership team or a small group within the larger church body.

If, after that process which Jesus described, our brother or sister rejects the efforts to reconcile, then we are authorized—as a small group, not individually, not retributively—to regretfully “convict” or “bind” that situation and disassociate with the offending person until he or she changes the sinful behavior. Wright says, “We don’t like the sound of this, but we need to ask what the alternatives are. If there is real evil involved, refusal to face it means a necessary break of fellowship. Reconciliation can only come after the problem has been faced.” Wright speaks true; you can imagine how our history and modern reputation might be different if the Catholic Church and/or the Southern Baptist Convention had taken this approach when dealing with sexual abuse among the ranks of its priests and pastors.

Likewise, when our brother or sister turns away from persistent sin, we are joyfully authorized by Jesus himself to “acquit” or “loose” that situation and restore full faith-family relations in reconciliation.

That, it seems, is what Jesus meant when he made the promise of Matthew 18:18 (NIV), “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”


JHT 228; MFE2 33-34, 36; MAT 334;

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What Does It Mean to Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem Today?

Scripture: Psalm 122:6-9 NIV

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May those who love you be secure.

May there be peace within your walls

and security within your citadels.”

For the sake of my family and friends,

I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your prosperity.

Psalm 122:6-9 NIV

History is full of irony, and among the greatest of its pitiless jokes is this: Jerusalem is NOT a city of peace.

It should be different, right? I mean, this is a place whose very name is often interpreted as “city of peace.” These hallowed streets once felt the sandals of the eternal Prince of Peace. And for thousands of years—since Psalm 122 was first sung on the steps of the Temple—nearly all of humanity has heard the appeal to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” And yet …

Jerusalem, both today and in ages past, is practically synonymous with violence. Jesus described her this way, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you … Look, your house is left to you desolate …” (Luke 13:33-35 NIV). And Bible journalist, Stephen M. Miller reveals: “Perhaps no city on the entire planet has witnessed as much violence over such a long period of time as Jerusalem, conquered dozens of times, reduced to rubble no less than five times, and in recent years a frequent target for Palestinian terrorists trying to reclaim their land.” (Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible, 194).

What was “Peace” in Ancient Jerusalem?

In spite of this depressing history, Psalm 122 still calls us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” What does that really mean?

The Old Testament Hebrew word translated as “peace” in Psalm 122 is šālôm. (Today it might be spoken as “shalom” or “salaam.”) This unique word obviously speaks to safety and the absence of war, but also carries significant meaning beyond simply that. In his Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Lawrence O. Richards explains šālôm as encompassing “wholeness, unity, and harmony—something that is complete and sound … prosperity, health, and fulfillment.”

This kind of hope-filled šālôm makes up the heart of the worshiper’s “fourfold wish” in Psalm 122:6-9.

  1. Security from outside attackers (safety from war) (verse 6).
  2. Unity and harmony among the residents of Jerusalem (verse 7).
  3. Familial wholeness and health (verse 8).
  4. Economic, religious, and political prosperity (verse 9).

What’s sometimes overlooked though, is the catalyst behind the Psalmist’s impassioned call to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” That’s found in verse 1 (NIV):

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

This, it seems, is why it was (and still is) so important to pray for the peace of Jerusalem: When that city is in peace, the nations of the world can find honest freedom and fulfillment in joyful worship of the one true God. He alone is “Jehovah-Shalom,” a name coined by Gideon on the eve of battle (Judges 6:24), which means “The Lord is Peace.”

How Can We Pray for “Peace” in Jerusalem Today?

In or modern era, Jerusalem is a divided city with an estimated population (as of 2019) of 919,407 souls. Housed within only about 49 square miles, it’s actually smaller than Washington, DC—and crams nearly 19,000 residents into each square mile. A shortage of affordable housing also means that many more live outside the city and must commute to work inside.

The people of Jerusalem are identified primarily by their religion and ethnicity. The majority (about 588,000) identifies as Jewish and associate with Judaism to varied degrees. More than 312,000 identify as Arabic and associate with Islam, again to various extents. Only a tiny remnant, a 2% minority of about 18,000 people dares to be known as Christians.

So, today we have in Jerusalem a city intensely divided by race, religion, politics, and economic status, its people forced to live in close quarters with others they’d regard as “enemies,” and constantly under the threat of military action both inside and outside of city walls.

Peace should be easy, right? Of course not—particularly when our modern media seems titillated to report on, and sometimes fuel, new conflicts in the Middle East. BUT …

Families still laugh and play in Jerusalem … Lovers still picnic by the sea … Children still learn happily at school … Friends still go to the theatre … Artists still create beauty … Worshipers still pray and sing, and … Life happens, day in and day out, in this lost city of peace.

And best of all, it’s still true that prayer changes things (James 5:16) and with God, anything is possible (Matthew 19:26).

That means we—right now, right here—are part of something greater than ourselves and our fallen world. Our meager prayers are a privilege of cooperation with God that only a few dare to dream. So when you next dream of peace for Jerusalem, consider mentioning these topics to Jesus:

  • Hope—for God’s Holy Spirit to remove bitterness and complacency from the hearts of Jerusalem’s people; for them to believe that peace is actually possible in their city.
  • Security—for Christ to spread his powerful protection around this place, preventing even the empty threat of attack from outside enemies.
  • Harmony—for God to turn the hearts of people toward compassion and kindness; for children to lead the way in the rising up of a generation that longs to treat all in Jerusalem as brother and sister.
  • Family—for Jesus to knit families together in wholeness and health, in ways that repulse fear and hate in exchange for love and joy.
  • Economy—for the people of Jerusalem to have ample opportunity and ability to provide for themselves and their families, to give generously to others, and to no longer be divided over who “has” and who “has not.”
  • Worship—for Christ’s Holy Spirit to be not simply present, but undeniably known in obvious ways within the hearts and expressions of His truly beloved people—Jew and Arab alike.



RBD 551; WWA 194; EDB 479; IB4 652-653; NOG 8; JP 1

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Who Were the Sadducees in the Bible?

Scripture: Mark 12:18-27

Picture the busy scene:

The temple at Jerusalem is bustling with action. Devout Jews are streaming in to make sacrifices required by the Law of Moses.

A worshiper arrives with an animal. “No,” says the priest. “That animal is unsuitable for sacrifice. You’ll have to buy this one from me instead. For a fee.” Oops, the worshiper presents the wrong currency, and now must exchange his money for Jewish shekels. For a fee. And finally the unreasonably expensive transaction is made. Moments later, another Jew arrives. “No!” says the priest again. He takes the previously “unsuitable” livestock and forces the new worshiper to buy it—for a fee. And so the cycle repeats itself, day after day, year after year.

Yep, it’s robbery, pure and simple. But that crooked scheme—among others—is how the Sadducees of Jesus’ day funded their lavish lifestyles and kept a tight grip on political power.


In first-century Israel, Sadducees were a religious faction that wielded societal power in nearly every aspect except military—and for that they had the backing of their Roman benefactors. These enemies of Jesus were the Jewish aristocrats of their day, known as much for their wealth and corruption as for their religious devotion. Although we can’t know for certain the origins of their name, a common belief is that it was derived from the name of prominent Old Testament High Priest, Zadok (2 Samuel 15:23-29; 1 Kings 2:35).

In Jesus’ time, Sadducees controlled the two most important institutions of Jewish society: The Jerusalem Temple (known as Herod’s Temple) and the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was the governing body for both religious and legal issues of the Jews. The leader of the Sanhedrin was a High Priest given king-like authority—and was almost always a Sadducee. For instance, Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas are two High Priests named in the New Testament (see Matthew 26:3, and Acts 4:6). Both were Sadducees—and both played critical roles in the execution of Jesus.

Sadducee Theology

Here’s what we know about Sadducee theology:

  • With special emphasis on the first five books of Moses (the Torah), they believed the Bible, our Old Testament, was the only authority on matters of faith and life. Sadducees flatly rejected the Pharisee teaching that oral tradition was equal to Scripture in authority.
  • They believed in unrestrained free will—meaning God had no role in the personal lives of humans. Everyone was master of his or her own destiny.
  • Sadducees rejected entirely the supernatural, refuting belief in angels, demons, heaven, hell, and resurrection. To their way of thinking “souls die with the bodies.” The End.
  • In spite of the previous, they believed strongly in ritual purity as prescribed by Moses. They didn’t want anything to disqualify them from “leading the temple services that generated income.”

In fact, wealth seems to have been the number one “belief” of the Sadducees. Modern archaeologists have uncovered a few ancient Sadducee homes, describing them as “the most opulent discovered to date in Jerusalem.”

The Bible Tells Me So

Sadducees and “chief priests”—which they were—are mentioned in all four gospels and in Acts. None of those mentions are flattering. Consider this sampling:

  • John the Baptist calls Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7)
  • Jesus calls Sadducees a “wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 16:1-5).
  • Jesus sternly warns his disciples against the deceptive teaching of the Sadducees (Matthew 16:1-12)
  • When Sadducees test Jesus with a theological question, they’re easily “silenced” by Christ who lectures them like children, calling them “badly mistaken!” (Matthew 22:23-34; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).
  • A detachment of soldiers and officials is sent by the “chief priests” to arrest Jesus, and later instigate the cry to “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 18:3. 19:6).
  • In the book of Acts, Sadducees frequently arrest—and are miraculously embarrassed by—Peter, John, Paul, and the other apostles (Acts 4:1-22; Acts 5:17-41; Acts 23:1-9)

Reading the New Testament accounts, it seems obvious our gospel writers had little respect for any Sadducee.

Why Were Sadducees Such Bitter Enemies of Jesus?

Why did Sadducees hate Jesus so much? Two obvious reasons apply:

  • Jesus threatened their erroneous belief system; If Christ’s teaching was right then most of what they lived and taught was wrong.
  • Jesus threatened their cozy relationship with Rome and the political and societal benefits that provided.

Still, the most likely reason for such strong Sadducee opposition to Christ appears to be this:

Jesus attacked them first.

Remember that temple sacrifice scheme we talked about? That (among other crimes) had been established by the Sadducee High Priest, Annas, and was enforced by what one theologian describes as “an extensive organized crime network in the temple, not unlike a quasi-religious mafia.” Corruption in the temple was so brazen, it was commonly known as the “Annas Bazaar”—a system through which Sadducee leaders stole fortunes from their helpless countrymen.

Until Jesus came along.

Acting under only His own authority, Jesus single-handedly drove the corrupt stooges of the Sadducees out of the temple, shutting down their crooked operation for at least a day. And if John is correct regarding the timeline recorded in his gospel (I believe he is) Jesus likely drove out the Annas Bazaar twice—once at the beginning of his ministry, and once near the end (see Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-22).

This violent act of Christ was a premeditated, direct attack on Annas, Caiaphas, and the whole Sadducee system. It cost them wealth and put their entire “quasi-religious mafia” at great risk. If one itinerant rabbi could do such damage, what would happen if many rose up? One can easily see why that’d prompt a such a passionate desire to kill God’s one and only Son.

Interestingly enough, the Sadducees disappeared from history within a lifetime after the execution of Jesus. Their power was inextricably tied to the temple in Jerusalem. When it was destroyed by Roman General Titus in AD 70, the Sadducees simply couldn’t survive.


SLU 451; NIB 210, 1007; BIG 222-223; CWDN 1272; JHE 118-119, 137

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Why do people disbelieve Jesus raised from the dead?

Scripture: Matthew 28:1–10.

Well, the core reason that people disbelieve Jesus raised from the dead is that they disbelieve (or, more often, dislike) the Christian religion. That’s understandable given the hateful reputation that Christians have sometimes earned throughout history (even today), and our human need to attempt to disprove that with which we disagree.

However, it should be noted that virtually no one disputes that Jesus’ tomb is empty—the dead body of Christ simply is not there. Even the Jewish religious leaders of that time acknowledged this fact (Matthew 28:12–15). If the body of Jesus had been there, it would’ve been simple work to discredit Christ’s disciples just by going to the tomb and producing the corpse.

Regardless of that, there are a few popular conspiracy theories that attempt to justify disbelief in Jesus’ resurrection. They include:

Conspiracy #1. Christ’s disciples stole his body while the guards slept, then perpetrated a lie that Jesus raised from the dead, and started a new religion based on this lie (the Jewish theory).

To my mind, this is the most plausible of all the conspiracy theories about the resurrection. It’s the oldest, dating all the way back to the time of the disciples, and if you’re willing to overlook some relevant circumstances, I suppose it could’ve happened. There are many problems with this theory under scrutiny, though.

First, there was the issue of the armed guard protecting Jesus’ tomb. Remember, these guards were placed there with one job only, and a very specific one at that: to prevent Jesus’ disciples from stealing the body. And, on the Friday of Jesus’ execution, his disciples were scattered and terrified that they’d be next in line for death. That those cowards could come up with a successful plan to quickly confront, outwit, and overcome professional Roman soldiers by Sunday morning strains the imagination.

Additionally, this theory depends not only on the guards being grossly derelict in their duty, but also being able to (1) sleep through the noise of a large stone being rolled away right beside them, and (2) adeptly identify nighttime grave robbers while they sleep. Honestly, given Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker, a miraculous resurrection is more plausible than that.

Second, Jesus’ disciples gained nothing of significance from this supposed lie. “It’s not as though there were a mansion awaiting them on the Mediterranean,” says scholar J. P. Moreland. “They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.”

Conspiracy #2. Jesus was never crucified, and so was never resurrected (the Muslim theory).

According to this view, Jesus was too holy to endure the indignity of crucifixion. Instead, God miraculously made someone else to look like Jesus who was then crucified in his place. Afterward, Jesus rose to heaven alive, like Elijah. As the Koran reads in surah 4:157, “but they killed Him not, nor crucified him. Only a likeness of that was shown to them … for a surety they killed him not.”

Muslim tradition declares that none of Christ’s followers actually saw his death, and so instead offers random conjecture about who actually died on the cross. Some theorize Jesus hid while one of his disciples died in his place. Others say Judas was punished by being made to look like Jesus and then crucified. Some believe that Simon of Cyrene took Jesus’ place for the execution. Some even say Satan was actually crucified as punishment for his opposition to Christ.

To my mind, there are a lot of problems with this theory. The biggest (and most obvious) is that it portrays God as a liar, a deceiver, and callously unconcerned about the fate of anyone else. And it contradicts Christ’s own teaching about morality and about his death and resurrection. For me, this falls very short of truth.

Conspiracy #3. Jesus raised as pure spirit, not in a physical body (the Jehovah’s Witnesses theory).

According to the Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower organization: “the King Christ Jesus was put to death in the flesh and was resurrected an invisible spirit creature.”

There are many who believe this theory, but for me the only way it can be true is if the Gospels and the book of Acts reported untruth. (For examples, see Luke 24:36–43; John 20:24–29; Acts 3:15; Acts 10:40, among others). I find the New Testament to be a more reliable source on first-century events than the historically recent Watchtower organization.

More random conspiracy theories.

There are other attempts to disprove Christ’s resurrection, but they are wholly inventive fictions and surprisingly insubstantial. For instance, some say that Jesus must’ve had a long-lost twin, separated at birth, who impersonated him after the crucifixion [insert eye roll here]. Others say that Jesus—after being severely disfigured from beatings, tortured on the cross, and having a spear shoved deep into his side—simply fainted … briefly. Then he woke up all better and pretended to be resurrected. Some are at least honest about their skepticism, saying they simply disbelieve—even though they can’t think of any plausible explanation for Jesus’ empty tomb.

The basic fact is, no conspiracy theory about Christ’s resurrection is fully supportable. This is hard for non-believers to accept because, as Lee Strobel points out, “The empty tomb, as an enduring symbol of the Resurrection, is the ultimate representation of Jesus’ claim to being God.” Dr. Timothy Keller, pastor and author, also likes to say, “The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like [Jesus’] teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

The apostle Paul agrees, writing in the first century:

And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! (1 Corinthians 15:14–18)


RES 6–7, 9, 34; CFC 205, 246–247; UI 220; RFG 210

“Why do people disbelieve Jesus raised from the dead?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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Is the Lord’s Prayer supposed to be repeated word for word, or is it a sample prayer?

Scripture: Matthew 6:9–13

The Lord’s Prayer, as quoted in Matthew 6:9–13, is one of the most famous Bible passages of all time. It records Jesus’ specific instructions for how to pray.

It’s important to notice that, immediately before giving the Lord’s Prayer, Christ warned his followers to avoid “babbling like pagans” when they prayed. Pagans at that time viewed prayer as something like a business contract that had the sole purpose of earning favor from whichever deity was its object. As a result, Greeks peppered their prayers with all types of honorifics and titles, hoping to flatter their way into heavenly favor. Other pagan prayers did the same, and also reminded the deity of all the ways the pray-er had kept their end of the blessing bargain by making sacrifices and/or defending the reputation of the so-called god.

Jesus dismissed this approach to prayer as worthless and insulting.

Instead Christ offered a prayer structure based on an intimate, family relationship with our heavenly Father. Many people today call this a “model prayer,” because it demonstrates key elements of prayer for us. In Jesus’ day, though, his disciples would’ve known it as an “index prayer.”

Index prayers were common in ancient Judaism, something a rabbi would use to teach people to practice praying. These were what we might call “directed prayers,” delivered in outline form. For instance, a rabbi would collect a few short sentences that each identified an item for prayer. The intent was that a person following an index prayer would start with one of those statements, but then “enlarge upon it,” drawing out what it means and how it applies. They were not to simply memorize and recite each line, but to use each line as a catalyst for deeper, more personal times with God.

That’s the kind of index prayer that Jesus gave in Matthew 6:9–13, and it has proved a timeless model for Christ followers ever since.


IBB 62; APB 92

“Is the Lord’s Prayer supposed to be repeated word for word, or is it a sample prayer?” is reprinted from Bible-Smart: Matthew © 2023 Nappaland Communications Inc. Published Tyndale House Publishers/Rose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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