Is Disfellowshipping Scriptural?

The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses say that disfellowshipping is a form of discipline based on the bible. We need to understand how the scriptures they use would have been applied in the time that they were written. We also have to make sure that they are being used in the right context and that they are not “cherry-picked”

By looking at all the cited scriptures and reading them in context, I  find reasons to believe this form of discipline, as a whole, including the judicial committee case, is not Bible-based, but that the procedure and practice is a man-made process and almost a mirror image of the Catholics practice of ex-communication along with their interpretation of the scriptures.

In this study I will consider these scriptures and try to understand them in context and without bias:

  • Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus explains how to deal with a brother who commits a sin.
  • 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and 11Paul addresses the Corinthians regarding a man blatantly committing adultery.
  • 2 John 10, 11We are instructed not to greet a sinner, but this scripture does not include all sinners…

I will also look at the current judicial process of the organisation and compare it to that of the judicial process under the Mosaic Law to find out if it has any scriptural basis at all.

I also want to look at the modern-day secular judicial system and how it was influenced by the law of the Christ.

Matthew 18 – Moreover, if your brother commits a sin

“Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault* between you and him alone.+ If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.+ 16 But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony* of two or three witnesses every matter* may be established.*+ 17 If he does not listen* to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen* even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations+ and as a tax collector.+

Matthew 18:15-17

This seems to be the only procedure that Jesus gave us in his own words and so I am inclined to believe that this procedure was meant to cover all sins. Jesus also says, “if your brother commits a sin”, he does not specify if it is a serious sin or a minor sin, and he doesn’t specify if it is a sin against you or a private sin.

What about going to the elders? There is nothing in the scriptures about becoming an informant. This is strictly a human/organizational directive. 

This is what the Bible says, that you should go to your brother and try to correct him personally. If he listens to you and stops sinning, you have gained a brother. 

Of course, if he denies it and there are no other witnesses, you have to leave it at that.  If he has stopped sinning and repented, there is no need to take this further. 

However, if he does not stop, and there is another witness, then we can take it to step two. Confront him again along with any other witnesses to the sin. Again, at this stage, you can still gain a brother if he turns back. If he stops and repents, then it ends there.

But what if he is fooling you and still sinning in secret?

Well, isn’t that between him and Jehovah? We cannot be behaving like self-righteous spiritual policemen.

Now I know that one might be inclined to fight against this reasoning. Someone commits fornication and then stops sinning, and that’s it? One might feel that more is needed? Some kind of punishment? 

Well, it is thinking like that, that gives birth to retribution. As a matter of fact, it is that kind of thinking that gave birth to the teaching of hellfire. Many revel in the belief that there must be a punishment, imagining those sinners in pain and suffering.

Is this not exactly why the following was written for us?

“Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says Jehovah.”

Romans 12:19

We must not forget that the Judge of all mankind is watching, and it is for Him only to determine what punishment to hand out.

Now, if he still continues to commit the sin and you can prove it, then it is time to involve the congregation. 

Involving the congregation is not a matter of reporting to the elders. 

Early Christians met in their homes in much smaller groups, and so confronting the sinner as a congregation would be something more like an intervention, rather than a handing over to elders for a secret hearing and serving of punishment, followed by a publicly humiliating announcement and extended shunning, to a very large audience, most of whom don’t even know what the person did wrong.

Having said that, If the brother still continues in his ways, then it is time to “let him be to you just as a man of the nations” 

What would that mean if we were still conducting our meetings in the same way the early Christians were? In small intimate groups studying the Bible independently, free from biased organizational influence on interpretations. 

This more intimate setting of the original Christian meetings makes sense because it allowed an open discussion between the members of the group, and everyone can understand exactly why the sinner is “being removed from among ourselves”

Let’s move on to another scripture that gives us more insight on this.

1 Corinthians 5 – you must hand such a man over to Satan

Actually sexual immorality+ is reported among you, and such immorality as is not even found among the nations—of a man living with* his father’s wife.+ 2 And are you proud of it? Should you not rather mourn,+ so that the man who committed this deed should be taken away from your midst?+ 3 Although absent in body, I am present in spirit, and I have already judged the man who has done this, as if I were actually with you. 4 When you are gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and knowing that I am with you in spirit along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you must hand such a man over to Satan+ for the destruction of the flesh, so that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.+

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

Here Paul writes to the Corinthians and addresses the issue that a man “calling himself a brother:” is living immorally, and being brazen about it even. So here we are dealing with a person who is guilty beyond any doubt. 

Verse 11 says that we should not even eat with such a man and that we must remove the wicked person from among yourselves.

Yes, we do need to hand such a man over to the world and let him carry on in his ways. Then we must take a stand and no longer associate with him as Christians. 

The argument here is not about whether or not we should remove the wicked person. That is clear in the scriptures, but rather HOW it is done, as mentioned before, the original format of Christian meetings versus our current format.

But does that really mean we are not supposed to even greet such a man as we are taught? Let’s look at the next scripture and find out more about this.

2 John 1:10,11 – the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.

Okay, so are we supposed to avoid even extending a simple greeting to an unrepentant sinner? Before we look at the cited scripture, lets jump back a few verses and get some insight and context about who we are not supposed to greet. We can’t simply assume that this is a blanket statement to be applied to every case.

The deceiver and the antichrist

Verse 7 gives us the first clue about who we are talking about. It speaks of many deceivers having gone out in the world. Ones who are not acknowledging Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. It clearly says we are talking about “the deceiver” and “the antichrist”.

Would you consider a person who made a mistake and got disfellowshipped  “the antichrist”? I wouldn’t…

Verse 8 talks about the one who pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ. He is still talking about the deceiver! He is not talking about just any sinner.

This is made clear in verse 10, that we are talking about people bringing teachings that do not originate with God. Teachings that do not acknowledge Jesus as coming in the flesh, or as the Messiah.

Okay so now we know who we are talking about, let’s look at the scripture.

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes+ or say a greeting to him. 11 For the one who says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.

2 John 10, 11

So we have established that this verse applies to the antichrist, the deceiver. But we can take this a step further. 

What KIND of greeting is the scripture talking about?

What if I told you that there are two types of greetings in greek that are described by different words. Let’s find out what they are, and which word was used here.

chairo {khah’-ee-ro} 1) to rejoice, be glad 2) to rejoice exceedingly 3) to be well, thrive 4) in salutations, hail! 5) at the beginning of letters: to give one greeting, salute

aspasmos {as-pas-mos} 1) a salutation, either oral or written

*Reference: Strongs Concordance Dictionary 

Which word would you guess was used here?

The word used here was “chairo’’. 

What does that mean? Even though this scripture is NOT applied to all sinners, it still does not say we can’t give the visitor a simple greeting. We are however, not supposed to greet them in a way that encourages them in spreading false teaching, or host them in any way.

Surely where there is provision for a basic hello to the “antichrist”, we can at least acknowledge a sinner?

Does the organisation’s Judicial Process have any scriptural basis at all?

Jesus already set out how we are to deal with sinners at Matthew 18. But let’s study the judicial system under the Mosaic Law and see how it compares to our current system, as well as how it compares to our modern day secular judicial system.

The Judicial process under the Mosaic Law

All disputes and accusations were tried publicly

Deuteronomy 21:19 gives direction where a mother and father should bring their son, a drunkard and a glutton, to the city gates to be judged.

The gates were also places where the Law was read to the congregated people in public. Read Nehemiah 8:1-3.

The city gate was a very busy place during the day as people went about their business, and so it was easy to find someone to witness civil matters such as property sales etc.

It was also a good place to hold serious trials as the public attention would influence the judges to be just and to hand out judgement fairly and according to the Law. They were directly accountable to the public for any decision they made.

There was even a seating area for the judges at the city gates to reside comfortably. Read Job 29:7

So it is clear in the scriptures that the elders would sit at the gates and any cases that they heard and dealt with were public, witnessed by anyone who passed by.

It is also clear that cases of all kinds were held publicly, including non civil matters such as apostasy as found at Deuteronomy 17:2-7.

There is no indication that the elders judged any man in private, keeping the names of the witnesses secret for the sake of confidentiality, then brought him to the people so they could punish him on the word of the elders alone. 

No, the witnesses were there at the trial, presenting their evidence. The accuser was even required to throw the first stone before the rest of the crowd could take part in the execution.

We can easily imagine the injustices that would have been possible if Jehovah’s law provided for secret judicial proceedings, making the judges answerable to no one.

It is clear that when dealing with issues involving the death penalty under Mosaic law the case was heard publicly—at the city gates, and today, this should be the case for any sin that must be addressed that has serious consequences.

The Judicial Process under the “The Men of Lawlessness”

An infamous example of an unscriptural and unfair trial

Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as men “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”.  Read Matthew 23:28

These men who prided themselves on upholding the law were quick to abuse it when it suited the purpose of protecting their authority.  

They hauled Jesus off at night without a formal accusation, or the chance to prepare a defense, or the opportunity to present witnesses on his behalf. They judged him and found him guilty in secret.

Then they brought him before the people using the weight of their authority to persuade the people to join in the condemnation of Jesus.

Why did the Pharisees judge Jesus secretly?  Simply put, truth was not on their side.

Jesus then said to the chief priests and captains of the temple and elders who had come there for him: “Did you come out with swords and clubs as against a robber?+ 53 While I was with you in the temple day after day,+ you did not lay your hands on me.+ But this is your hour and the authority of darkness.”+

Luke 22:52,53

Truth was not on their side. They could find no reason in God’s law to condemn Jesus, so they had to invent one; one that wouldn’t stand the light of day.  

The secrecy would allow them to judge and condemn, then present their decision to the public.  They would denounce him before the people; label him a blasphemer and use the weight of their authority to win the support of the people.

Sadly this lawlessness is still in practice today.

It was prophesied that after the death of the apostles, the “men of lawlessness” and the “son of destruction” would again assert himself, this time within the Christian Congregation. 

However, brothers, concerning the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ+ and our being gathered together to him,+ we ask you 2 not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be alarmed either by an inspired statement*+ or by a spoken message or by a letter appearing to be from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah*+ is here.

3 Let no one lead you astray* in any way, because it will not come unless the apostasy+ comes first and the man of lawlessness+ gets revealed, the son of destruction.+ 4 He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship,* so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I used to tell you these things?

6 And now you know what is acting as a restraint, so that he will be revealed in his own due time. 7 True, the mystery of this lawlessness is already at work,+ but only until the one who is right now acting as a restraint is out of the way. 8 Then, indeed, the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth+ and bring to nothing by the manifestation+ of his presence. 9 But the lawless one’s presence is by the operation of Satan+ with every powerful work and lying signs and wonders*+ 10 and every unrighteous deception+ for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth in order that they might be saved. 11 That is why God lets a deluding influence mislead them so that they may come to believe the lie,+ 12 in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Like the Pharisees before him, the men ignored the proper exercise of justice as laid down in the Holy Scriptures.

Secret trials have been used in Christendom for centuries to protect the power and authority of Church leaders and to suppress independent thinking and Christian freedom.

The Judicial Process under the Nations

The Bible’s Influence on Modern Day Judicial Processes

Believe it or not, the belief in the Bible and the influence of Christ’s law has provided many legal guidelines in many countries today while they acknowledge that Jesus’ law prevents abuse of power by those in authority as well as many other unjust practices.

And because of this, most people in the world today (including you and I) are afforded the legal right to a fair and impartial public hearing before one’s friends, family and public witnesses. A Bible principle where trials are held publicly at Nehemiah 8:1-3 , Job 29:7, Deuteronomy 21:19, Deuteronomy 17:2-7

We have the right to publicly face our accusers and have the right to cross examine them. A Bible principle found at Proverbs 18:17 used by modern day governments.

We have the right to prepare a defense and know exactly what accusations are being brought forth without being blindsided by concealed attacks disguised as shepherding calls.

Anyone in a civilised country would very quickly condemn a secret trial where a man is denied the right to know ALL the charges and witnesses against him until the moment of the trial.

How can anyone support any trial where a man is not given time to prepare a defense. No opportunity to gather witnesses on his behalf . No allowance to have friends, family or advisors to observe, counsel and bear witness to the fairness of the trial?

I can’t. As a matter of fact, that any decent human being would consider such a legal system to be that of a dictatorship where its citizens have no rights.

The Current Judicial System within the Organisation

The Organisations Judicial System versus that of the Nations

Knowing that there is ample evidence in the Bible on how judicial matters are to be handled, and that these Bible principles have even guided wordly lawmakers in keeping judicial processes fair and just, we would expect that our organisation should show the highest standards in judicial proceedings.

Imagine for a second, that you are summoned to court, judged and found guilty without an attorney or without access to the actual laws by which you are being accused. You may not have any friends, family or any legal representation or even moral support in this trial. No opportunity to cross examine your accusers. You are given no opportunity to prepare your defense, even though they might have spent days or even weeks building up accusations against you.

Would you consider such a system Christian? No, this system is clearly unfair even by worldly standards!

This is the system the organisation is using, and for some reason we just accept it, even though it is not scriptural. As a matter of fact, it is debatable that this process is not even legal, and we are supposed to obey the law of the land. [Romans 13:1-3]

Destroyed at Armageddon, despite repentantance?

Unless they are formally reinstated into the organisation, a disfellowshipped person will continue to be shunned, even if they immediately stopped the sin and repented. They are also taught that if they remain in the disfellowshipped state at Armageddon, they will be destroyed.

“and if one should remain in this disfellowshipped condition till he died, it would mean his everlasting destruction as a person who is rejected by God. “

Watchtower 1965 Dec 15 p.751 para.15

There is a very big problem with this arrangement, let me explain…

Is a person’s salvation based on a human decision?

It is up to a judicial committee to decide whether that person has repented or not, and whether they should reinstate that person. This means that a person’s salvation depends on the decision of a human being.

This is not what Jesus said about salvation.

Do not put your trust in princes*
Nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.+

Psalms 146:3

Jesus said to him: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

Salvation only comes through Jesus himself, there are no mediators that can stand between a man and Jesus. [1 Timothy 2:5]

Repentance, the true meaning of the word in the Bible

We also know that a requirement to obtain salvation is to repent. But what does this word mean exactly? Does repentance include reinstatement to an earthly organisation?

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: 

  • שוב shuv (to return)
  •  נחם nacham (to feel sorrow)

In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing).

In this compound word, it combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’. 

In short, repentance is a change of mind, change in the inner man, a change of direction.

It is very clear that repentance is a personal thing that no other human can discern. Sure, there can be evidence of repentance on a person’s behaviour. But how then can a human be allowed to judge if you have repented or not, with a person’s salvation at stake! To imagine Jesus even suggesting something like this is unthinkable! Only Jehovah can read the heart.

Is Confession Necessary for Repentance?

Yes, in some cases, repentance does include a confession if the sin was against someone, and a confession may also be necessary if the person feels they need assistance in getting back on track. But it is not up to any man to attempt to read the heart and decide if they are worthy of salvation or not, by “accepting or rejecting reinstatement as a Christian.”

Matthew 18 clearly says that if the brother changes his course then you have gained a brother, if not, and after you have exhausted all steps given in Matthew 18 to help him, then let him be a man of the nations. You can’t use this as a basis to justify that he is not worthy of salvation because you failed to see that he has repented. 

All we are responsible for is limiting association with such ones.

Secret Trials

The accused does not have the same rights as they would have had if they were summoned to a secular court. 

  • They are not notified in advance of the charges brought forth.
  • They have no opportunity to seek legal counsel, let alone legal representation. In this setting it would be allowing someone to assist them so that they are treated fairly at the hearing.
  • They have no opportunity to review the law by which they are being judged (Shepherd the Flock, Elders Book). 
  • The accused is summoned to attend the hearing alone and is not allowed to take any notes.
  • The accused may not have a fellow brother or sister accompany them for moral support. This is only excused in the case of a minor, and never for the entire hearing.

Matters were held by Israelites at the city gates so a fair discussion with onlookers could be made, first century Christians did this in front of the Christian congregation (In those days, small groups of Christians meeting in homes). This prevented the injustice that can take place before small closed bodies of elders.

We also know that the congregation needs to know why the person was removed from among themselves. Not just an announcement that no one can object to or enquire about.

Reprove+ before all onlookers those who practice sin,+ as a warning to the rest.*

1 Timothy 5:20

Today, because the organisation is a legal entity, and because the congregation is a large crowd, there are legal implications of doing this. If we stuck to the format the early Christains used, this wouldn’t have been a problem. 

As I said earlier, the entire process would have been similar to an intervention among close friends, an open discussion to try and correct the brother, and if he doesn’t repent, then tell him we can no longer associate with him until he changes his paths.


The term disfellowship does not appear anywhere in the Bible. But under the “Bible Words Indexed” item Disfellowship, we are directed by the organisation to the words “Expelled, Expel”.

The two scriptures referenced were both about being expelled from the Synagogue as a consequence of following Jesus, and that the men who expel/disfellowship, think they are rendering a service to God! 

These verses also tell us that even some of these leaders will know they are in the wrong but will continue in their course because of their fear of being expelled/disfellowshipped.

2 Men will expel YOU from the synagogue.*+ In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills YOU will imagine he has rendered a sacred service* to God.+

John 16:2

42 All the same, many even of the rulers actually put faith in him,+ but because of the Pharisees they would not confess [him], in order not to be expelled from the synagogue;*+

John 12:42

Both the cited Bible accounts were that of Jews following Christ and being expelled from the Synagogue because of it, or of men not following Christ in fear of being expelled.


In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus shows us how we should treat a person who has repented. He did not wait to question the son’s current actions, did not attempt to determine his son’s motives, make him prove his repentance. He also didn’t give him a period of lower status to punish him.

There is no instruction in the Bible to form a highly detailed and formal process for reinstatement. According to the Bible, the minute a person repents and stops his sin for good, he is automatically considered a Christian. There is no requirement to prove to another human that you are acceptable to God for salvation.

Paul simply stated that a person who is practicing sin should be avoided, when that person has stopped sinning, you have gained a brother and there is no longer any reason to avoid association with them.

Revenge and Punishment

The organisation claims that disfellowshipping is an arrangement of love and is to help a person to come to their senses.

But then why are people still disfellowshipped even years after they have stopped practicing the sin in question? It is wholly unnecessary. Matthew 18 tells us if the brother stops sinning, then you have gained a brother. 

And 2 John 1:10 tells us not to greet an active antichrist. How can this be applied to a disfellowshipped person who has stopped his sin?

In this case, disfellowshipping is nothing more than giving that person the silent treatment for a mistake that they have already corrected. In many cases we are giving silent treatment when we don’t even know what the person did wrong. 

This is not love, this is retaliation and manipulation.

Yes, Retaliation and Manipulation. Not my words. Those are the words used to describe silent treatment in the Awake 2013 under the topic ‘’How to End the Silent Treatment’’


What the scriptures say about the handling of sinners

Comparison between Bible guidelines for association with these wrongdoers and Watchtower policy on disfellowshipping and shunning shows the Organization has gone beyond the Scriptures as a means of control.

I have studied the scriptures used to justify the judicial process and the disfellowshipping arrangement as whole. These scriptures include Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Cornithians 5:3-5 and 11, 2 John 1:10,11

Matthew 18 clearly explained that if your brother sins, go and reveal his fault to him and if he listens to you then you have gained a brother. If he doesn’t stop his sin, and if there is another witness, bring him along to try to talk some sense into him. If at this point, he then corrects his course then you have gained a brother. Now if he still won’t listen, then you can take it to the congregation.

The congregation in this case would have been a small group of Christians meeting in their homes, and this confrontation would be of a similar format as what we today call an intervention.

If he STILL won’t listen, and that man is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt as was the man in 1 Corinthians 5, then you are to “let him be as a man of the nations” and as in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 and 11, not even eat with such a man. So we are not to socialise with that person, until he stops practising sin. 

If he stops practicing sin, then according to Matthew 18 again, we have gained a brother, because after all, that is the whole point! To remove the wickedness from yourselves and also to bring the sinner to his senses.

If he has stopped sinning, then you have already accomplished both.

Should you be allowed to simply greet the sinner? Why not? 

You might quote 2 John 1:11, but we must be sure to understand the context of that scripture before blindly applying it to this case. 2 John 1 talks about a VERY specific case. It talks about the deceiver, the antichrist. The one bringing teachings to you that do not originate from God and that Jesus did not come in the flesh.

When they come to our home with these teachings we are not to let them in. In those days Christain meetings were held in homes, so it is possible that it was meant to not let them join these meetings. But I do not want to speculate.

So we are not to greet this very specific person, but there is more to this.

There are two types of greetings in the Greek language, Chairo (deep warm and welcoming greeting) and Aspesmos (a simple and friendly hello). 

We are told that we are not to give a deep warm and welcoming greeting (Chairo) to that person that might encourage him in what he is doing.

If we can extend a friendly “Hello” to the deceiver, then how much better should we treat a repentant sinner?

Judicial Process in the Law of Christ, The Mosaic Law, in the Law of the Nations and the Law of the “Lawless One”

Matthew 18,1 Corinthians 5 and 2 John 1:11 give us enough direction to handle sinners as the first century congregation did. This is based on Jesus’s Direction and  it is fair and just. 

Judicial  cases under the Mosaic Law were always held publicly and for good reason. This principle helped protect people from being treated unfairly behind closed doors. This also allowed the accused to have moral and legal support, while any member of the public could be a witness to the fairness of the trial.

This was true for both minor and major offenses.

Even today’s modern courts apply Biblical principles today in trials that the organisation does not. They inform you well in advance of the charges brought against you so that you may prepare your defense, allow you legal representation and moral support of friends and family at a public hearing [Nehemiah 8:1-3 , Job 29:7, Deuteronomy 21:19, Deuteronomy 17:2-7]. They allow you to cross examine your accusers publicly, in front of the congregation. [Proverbs 18:17]

The Judicial system of the organisation has more in common with the system of the “lawless men” than it does with Christ’s Law, the Mosaic Law or even the Law of the Nations.

The organisation’s process is unfair even by worldly standards.

Salvation is not gained through a human

A disfellowshipped person continues to be shunned even after they have ceased practicing sin and are taught to believe that they will be destroyed at Armageddon if they are not reinstated in time. 

This implies that a person’s salvation is based on the decision of a human to reinstate the person or not. This goes against what the scripture teaches. [Psalms 146:3,John 14:6 and 1 Timothy 2:5]

The scriptures make it clear that salvation comes only through Jesus himself.

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