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'Marking' people

Submitted: 5/13/2005
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Question: Please explain Romans 16:17, which is used, sometimes, to condone gossiping/blacklisting by 'the ministry' if anyone disagrees with them or questions them at all. Isn't the directive to mark those if their teaching is contrary to right doctrine or does the threat of being marked and shunned/disfellowshiped involve more? What does 'mark' mean and how is it to be done? My daughter's pastor's wife says it is okay for her to 'spread the word' to stay away from people on her telephone to 'mark' them and, therefore, it is not gossiping.

Answer: Romans 16:17-18 states: 'Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple' (NKJV).

This passage is an instruction to the entire body of believers in Rome telling them how to protect themselves from those who 'cause divisions and offenses.' The doctrine that the Roman believers had learned included, 'Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law' and 'let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way' (Romans 13:8 and 14:13). To cause divisions and offenses contradicted these doctrines.

The people were to 'note' such people. The KJV uses the word 'mark.' The meaning is to take notice those who are causing divisions and offenses. And when such people are noticed, they are to be shunned or avoided. This action is explained in more detail in 1 Corinthians 5:11, which says, 'But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person.' To avoid a person therefore means to not keep company with him or even eat with him.

The question arises as to who determines when a person is to be avoided. Romans 16:17 places the responsibility on each individual believer. It must be remembered that the purpose of this avoidance is not judgment but restoration and reconciliation. As Paul wrote, 'Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus' (1 Corinthians 5:5).

In some assemblies with a single pastor, Romans 16:17 has at times been used as a method of silencing anyone who disagrees with the pastor. This is a misuse of Paul's instruction. The real purpose is to protect God's people from those who 'do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.'