In our series of Out of Context topics, we will talk about the misappropriation of Scriptures used to either garner control or gain material wealth from congregations. Scripture teaches clearly that the Word was not to be used in this fashion, and yet with humanity involved, it seems almost inevitable, past, present, and future.
Today’s topic is Matthew 18:18, something I’ve heard used incorrectly to prescribe absolute authority to those in positions of spiritual authority.
“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 18:18, KJV
In this Out of Context study, we are focusing on a phrase found twice in Scripture, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;“.
This is found in Matthew 18:18 and Matthew 16:19, first when explaining the proper method of Church discipline, and then when Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven;
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:19 KJV
On the surface, and out of context, this seems to prescribe Peter the ability to bind any requirement upon the earth that he wishes, and that same requirement will be bound in heaven. Or in other words, Peter could create laws and God would then honor as His own commandments.
I have heard this Scripture used within the confines of a Church service, and preaching, to concrete the belief that ‘God will back up his man! [the preacher preaching]’, regardless of whether or not there was Biblical evidence for what was being taught. In whole, the message was this;
“If I [the preacher] decide that this rule and requirement is right for this Church, I am God’s man, and God is going to back up his man! [queue Matthew 18:18]”
Now, to be fair, I do believe God will back up His man. But I also believe that a man with the aforementioned attitude is not God’s man, he is his own.
Consider the words of Jesus when dealing with Traditions and Commandments, and Pharisaical rule;
“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” – Mark 7:7, KJV
The Out of Context idea here is that someone with a pastoral leadership position has the capacity and authority of Christ to create extra-Biblical commandments and that God will indeed bind or loose those commandments into the heavenly record. Christ said this was a foul odor to him, a sacrifice he didn’t want.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. – I John 5:7
Uncovering the Context
Often times, simply reading a Scripture under a different translation helps to open the eyes to the depth of its meaning. I’m a King James fan, but I use many other translations for comparison and understanding purposes. Let’s consider Matthew 18:18 in the Amplified Bible.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. – Matthew 18:18, KJV
I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth shall have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth shall have [already] been loosed in heaven. – Matthew 18:18, AMP
The difference in surface context is quite stunning. In the first example, we can almost read unbridled permission to bind certain things upon the earth and have them bound in heaven, by God.
In the second example, we get a different understanding, one that says what you have taught, or bound, or loosed, according to the example already given, was already bound and loosed in heaven.
The Adam Clarke Commentary on this subject is quite deep and yet ends with the most succinct way to define the difference, found in Dor. Lightfoot’s works, and displays the true context of these Scriptures;
“The phrases to bind and to loose were Jewish, and most frequent in their writers. It belonged only to the teachers among the Jews to bind and to loose. When the Jews set any apart to be a preacher, they used these words, ‘Take thou liberty to teach what is Bound and what is Loose.’” Strype’s preface to the Posthumous Remains of Dr. Lightfoot, p. 38.
The AHA moment here, the God moment is that the true context of Matthew 18:18 and Matthew 16:19 was that these men would be preaching the already prescribed bound and loosed principles, their liberty was confidence knowing God already decreed these things, and God would assure and validate them in His kingdom. In other words, by sticking to the book, the teachings of Christ, they were on the right track!
Consider Adam Clarke’s further explanation of why the Christ used these terms;
…that binding signified, and was commonly understood by the Jews at that time to be, a declaration that any thing was unlawful to be done; and loosing signified, on the contrary, a declaration that any thing may be lawfully done. Our Savior spoke to his disciples in a language which they understood, so that they were not in the least at a loss to comprehend his meaning;
In conclusion, let me give you an example of Apostolic church forefathers binding and loosing in this manner. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council battled out the idea between Judaic legalism and the era of Grace. In the end, the Holy Ghost convinced them of what was still bound on the earth;
v24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: v25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, v26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. v27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. v28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; v29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Here, we have a binding, something is forbidden to be done, and loosing previous things required that are now no longer required, or in opposing terms, are now lawful (uncircumcision). This was done through the Holy Ghost and it followed with extant Biblical principles – forbidding from meat offered to idols (pagan), from consuming blood and things strangled, and from sexual impurities.
It must be noted, in proper context, that these men didn’t declare new commandments and then declare that God would back them up. Rather, they decreed that the Holy Ghost taught them to not continue legalistic requirements and that they would not bind the Gentile bride to Old Testament law.
My sincere hopes that this made sense, and that we all grow and learn from His Word! I’m looking forward to your feedback (if you made it through this long read!) and God Bless!