Does Matthew 18, verses 15 to 20 deal with an interpersonal problem?

Does Matthew 18, verses 15 to 20 deal with an interpersonal problem?

"If thy brother trespass against thee" clearly seems to involve a trespass against an individual. However many translations and most of the manuscripts from which our translations come either omit "against thee" or note that it may not have been in the original writings.

Rather than leaving us in confusion, this calls for greater care in understanding the passage. If "against thee" belongs in the passage, the Lord is instructing an individual who has been injured by another's sin. If "against thee" was not in the Lord's teaching, the teaching is more general and addresses one who is concerned about his brother who has strayed. Actually, the context, an important aid in interpreting any passage, supports either possibility.

Consider the first possibility ("if thy brother trespass against thee"). At the beginning of the chapter (vv. 1-4), the Lord states the requirement for entering the kingdom. Apart from the simplicity, lowliness, and dependence that characterizes a child, no one will enter the kingdom. These who thus enter are like the One Who is meek and lowly (v. 4; 11:29); He identifies them with Himself. They are of inestimable worth to Him. Unbelievers who harm them face severe judgment, for He came to save them (vv. 6-11). As dependent as children and defenseless as sheep, His own have His protection against unbelievers who wrong them. But what if another believer wrongs his brother (not now pictured as a child or sheep)? The Lord has given full administrative authority to His own - to the assembly - to protect such a wronged brother.

Consider the second possibility ("if thy brother trespass"). In verses 11 through 14, the Lord shows that both He and His Father have shepherd hearts in their concern for these "little ones." How suitable that one who belongs to this family should be like the Father and His Son and should persistently seek the recovery of his sinning and straying brother!

This second possibility flows more smoothly since it fits the context of the verses immediately preceding it. Furthermore, this second view includes the first view. The straying brother's sin may be an interpersonal problem, but it is not limited to that. It includes other kinds of sins.

D. Oliver