Binding and Loosing

God revealed to Peter that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). A short time later, Peter found himself speaking for the devil. Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (verse 23).

Jesus’ rebuke seems severe, but the fact that He identified Satan as the source of Peter’s words was precise and appropriate. The devil’s aim is to promote self-interest as the chief end of humankind. Satan is called the prince of this world because self-interest rules this world. He is called the accuser because he does not believe that we have a higher motive than self-service. Satan’s creed sounds like this: “Save yourself at all costs. Sacrifice duty to self-interest, the cause of Christ to personal convenience. All people are selfish at heart and have their price. Some may hold out longer than others, but in the end people choose their own will over the will of God.”

God has given the keys of the Kingdom to those who deny themselves, pick up their cross daily and follow Jesus. Whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (see Matthew 16:19). A similar passage can be found in Matthew 18:18, but in verses 19-20, Jesus adds, “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Three points need to be noted. First, because truth sets people free, the keys of the Kingdom may mean the keys of knowledge (see Luke 11:52). Second, both passages on binding and loosing are difficult to translate. Following the rules of Greek grammar, both passages can be translated, “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, NASB).

The same Greek language structure is found in John 20:23: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” That passage could also be translated, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (John 20:23, NASB). Notice the subtle differences between the two translations. Linguistically, they can be translated either way, but the New American Standard Bible translation is to be preferred. Most theologians agree that the Church does not have the power and right to bind, loose and forgive whomever it wishes.

Third, what the two or three gathered together in Jesus’ name are agreeing on is God’s will. The ideas to bind, loose and forgive originated in heaven, not in the independent mind of humanity. God is able to communicate in such a way that discerning Christians have the keys to the Kingdom. They are announcing what God has ordained. Everything that is true and lasting originates in heaven.

Dr. Neil

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