Does the Christian have the right to tell a person he is wrong? Sometimes when discussions arise about what the Bible teaches, someone objects that no one has the right to tell another he is in the wrong.
Once again, there is plenty of guidance on this question in the Bible.
They Said It
Jesus said people were wrong, and told them why (Matthew 22:29, Mark 12:27, “wrong,” RSV, NRSV, ESV).
Paul told the Roman Christians they were wrong to eat certain foods when it caused others to stumble (Romans 14:20).
To third parties, Paul talked about one who did wrong (2 Corinthians 7:12). So we might be careful about prohibiting people from talking about who’s doing wrong if it’s not directly to them.
Paul sometimes called names: Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2; Hymenaeus e Alexander, 1 Timothy 1:19-20; Phygelus and Hermogenes, 2 Timothy 1:15; Demas, 2 Timothy 4:10). John didn’t mind calling Diotrophes by name either (3 John 9). At other times, it was obvious who were the troublemakers or false teachers.
Peter spent a good bit of space warning his readers about specific wrongdoers: “Forsaking the right way they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing” (2 Peter 2:15, ESV).
Jude did the same for his readers, dedicating his entire letter to certain people who “were designated for this condemnation” (Jude 4). Sounds like he said they were going to hell because they “abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error” (v. 11).
James even went so far as to tell some people they were wrong in the way they prayed! (James 4:3). Now that’s cheeky!
Titus Could Know
Paul gave Titus strict, specific instructions on how to deal with a person who stirs up division, “knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:11). Titus could …
(1) KNOW who was and wasn’t practicing such behavior. It was not a specially taxing exercise to discern who was a factious person.
(2) KNOW the state of that person. The word “warped” (Greek, ekstrepsomai) means “to have departed from the patterns of correct behavior and thus to have become corrupt — ‘to be corrupt, to have become corrupt.'” The word “sinful” (Gr. hamartano) is “to act contrary to the will and law of God — ‘to sin, to engage in wrongdoing, sin.'”
(3) KNOW the destiny of that person. The word “self-condemned” (Gr autokatakritos) means “pertaining to one who is condemned as a result of his own actions — ‘condemned by one’s own actions.’ … ‘being condemned by what he himself has done’ Tt 3.11.”
So it’s not about what we THINK the Bible says, in contrast with what someone else thinks about it, but what all can KNOW what it says and what must be done.
Some Strong Words
A whole slew of words tells us to point out people’s wrongdoing.
The Greek “elegcho” group means “to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing — ‘to rebuke, to reproach, rebuke, reproach.’ Lk 3.19, Eph 5.11, 2 Timothy 3.16.” (Definitions are from Louw & Nida’s lexicon, unless otherwise specified.) Paul told Titus to “rebuke [the Cretan Christians] sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,” Tt 1.13. The adverb “sharply” (Greek, apotomos) means “severely, rigorously” (BAGD). It is often translated “harshly.” Paul says, in effect, “Get rough with them! It’s the only way we may save them.”
The verb “noutheteo” means “to admonish someone for having done something wrong — ‘to admonish, to rebuke'” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
The verb “epitimao” is similar, meaning “to express strong disapproval of someone — ‘to rebuke, to denounce'” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Then there is “epanorthosis:” “to cause something to be or to become correct, with the implication of a previous condition of faults or failures — ‘to correct, correcting faults.'” See 2 Timothy 3:16.
Can We Say It?
Can just Jesus and the apostles say “You’re Wrong”? Not at all! The entire church was urged by the inspired writers to expose (or reprove) the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).
It’s not a right, actually, but a responsibility. For if we don’t pull people away from the wrong path, they will suffer the consequences. So we warn and rebuke, while still respecting the other person’s free will — it has to be their decision. No arm-twisting or manipulation, no forcing or brow-beating. But genuine concern and desire to save the soul.
Of course, attitude is everything: gentleness is a must (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:25). The goal is clear: saving the soul (Titus 1:13). And to do that, we must show people what, and often who, is wrong.
As Paul told the Corinthians, “Aim for restoration” (2 Corinthians 13:11). For ourselves, and for everyone in — and out of — the Way.
Latest posts by J. Randal Matheny (see all)
- How to overcome negativity, and other sundry thoughts - 2018-08-13
- Is unity still a realistic pursuit? - 2018-07-23
- Are you living for the weekend or the world’s end? - 2018-07-09