Binding and Loosing, Part 2 (Matthew 16:15-19)
In my previous post, I sketched out an interpretation of Matthew 16:15-19 that hopefully helps to show that “binding and loosing” is not referring to “warfare prayer.” According to some, Matthew 16:19 allows us to personally “bind” Satan and his demons in specific situations and places.
I argued that “binding and loosing” refers to God’s people declaring with authority the truth about Jesus. Here in verse 16, Peter is the first to make this proclamation when he enthusiastically responds to the Lord’s question with the glorious words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When the truth about Jesus (the gospel message) is declared by God’s people, this proclamation frees some–“looses” them–to enter into eternal life. It is the key to the kingdom. For others, that same proclamation “binds” them, shutting them out of the kingdom as they choose to reject the truth.
Now that I have offered this as an interpretation, here is more detail why I think this is the correct way to understand binding and loosing. I also want to include in this post some thoughts on the implications of this interpretation for our efforts to complete the Great Commission and see Christ’s church advance to the ends of the earth.
“shall be bound” or “shall have been bound”
First, we have to consider the meaning of the words, “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed.” Even if you are not a greek scholar (the original language of the New Testament), if you are an English speaker, you have a tremendous Bible study tool available to you in the various English translations. Usually when there is a question of the correct way to interpret the original text, it will come up through a comparison of some of the major translations (you can do this using E-sword (which is free), or Logos, which I use–not free). In this case, we discover that the ESV, which I usually use here on the blog, and the NASB have translated this phrase differently. Here is the comparison:
ESV: …whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
NASB: …whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
There is a long-standing debate among biblical scholars over which of these is the better translation and I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the NASB translation fits very naturally with what we have seen so far in the rest of the passage. Let me explain how.
When we proclaim the gospel message, we are directly impacting people’s lives in that when they receive the message, they are loosed and brought into the kingdom. When they reject the message (and only God knows when that final rejection occurs) they are bound over to eternal punishment.
But even though, as proclaimers of the truth, we are the agents through which this occurs, it is not as though we are the ones deciding peoples’ eternal destinies. As the NASB translation makes clear, what we bind or loose on earth, God has already bound or loosed in heaven. D.A. Carson (to whom I am greatly indebted for everything I am presenting in this post), put it this way in his commentary on Matthew: “He (Peter) has no direct pipeline to heaven, still less do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has acted first.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew)
When we boldly and authoritatively declare the truth that it is only through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, that man can be reconciled with his Creator, God’s eternal purposes are fulfilled. His authority to save sinners is manifested in our authoritative proclamation of the means by which he saves sinners. We are, in the language of Matthew 16:19, “binding and loosing.”
Binding and loosing put into practice…
The significance then of Jesus’ words here is immense. God’s eternal purpose to call out for himself a people who will be saved by the redeeming work of Jesus Christ is placed into our hands! Consider the implications for our efforts to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. I believe Jesus’ words should embolden us to preach the gospel with courage and authority. Isn’t this exactly what we see Peter doing in Acts, and then all the other apostles as well, who were then followed by their Timothys and Tituses?
Jesus has given us authority to preach the gospel! And in our increasingly pluralistic and relativistic world, we need strong assurances of that authority in order to continue to be faithful to our calling as witnesses (Acts 1:8). This verse was given to us not to emboldent us to speak to Satan, but to embolden us to speak to sinners.
I get worked up by this because I believe that many in the “bind Satan” camp, while they are well-meaning, are forgetting that the commission we received from Jesus’ lips was to “make disciples” and not to “bind Satan”. And one of the very passages that provides us with the authority we need to make those disciples has been misconstrued and used to distract us from that original commission. Yes, we must pray! Absolutely we must pray, but let me be so bold as to say that when we say, “Satan, I bind you in the name of Jesus” we are not praying. That is not prayer. Prayer is talking to God, not talking to Satan, (note: I am not saying that we are never to address demons directly, there is biblical precedent for a verbal rebuke of demons. I am only saying that there is no biblical precedent for “binding Satan”.)
Another reason why applying these verses correctly is so important is that the very thing that Satan fears more than anything else is the proclamation of the glorious gospel of the blood of Christ that will wrench his captives away from him. If we really want to wage spiritual warfare, let us do it with the most powerful weapon we have which is the gospel. It is the gospel that declares that Satan was defeated at the cross.
What does it matter if we have courage to address Satan in prayer, but don’t have courage to address his subjects with the gospel. Let me say it yet again, it is not for us to bind Satan. At the appropriate time, he will be bound and cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3), and according to Scripture it will not be we who do it.
Still not convinced? A final argument
Binding and loosing in Matthew 18:18
If what I and commentators like D.A. Carson and Craig Blomberg (New American Commentary: Matthew) are saying is correct, then a good way to test this interpretation is to see if it fits with Matthew 18:18, which is almost identical to Matthew 16:19, but in a very different context.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him 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 one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mattthew 18:15-20)
In neither Matthew 18 nor 16 is there any mention at all of Satan and his demons. To read them into the binding and loosing verses totally ignores the context of the passage.
Here, the context is one of church discipline. Notice that in verse 17, the brother who has been confronted with his sin “refuses to listen even to the church”. He is therefore an example of one who is “bound on earth” in the sense that the church says to this brother, “if you are unwilling to live by the truth of the gospel that we as Christ’s body confess, then you are no longer a part of that body.” It is not the church that is excommunicating the individual, but God, acting through the church as his agent on earth (NASB, here also: shall have been bound). And just as in Matthew 16, the church does this through a proclamation of the truth, never acting arbitrarily outside of that truth but only serving as the agent by which God exercises his authority.
Here again, there is a tremendous application to our obedience to Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to all creation. The growth of the kingdom of God is not accomplished simply by filling our churches with large numbers of people, doing everything in our power to keep people happy and not rock the boat. We must exercise the authority that God has given us to hold people to the high standard of a life, “worthy of the calling that we have received” (Eph. 4:1). When we fail to discipline believers who are not living that worthy life, then we are failing to “bind and loose” as Jesus gave us the authority to do.
If you’ve made it this far into a long post (I have trouble writing short ones), let me conclude by saying that I would love to hear your comments on this. I have just put a new comment subscription plug-in on the blog. If you care to leave a comment, you can also subscribe to the comments on that post by email and get an email whenever anyone else adds a comment. Just look for the e-mail sign up at the bottom of the comments section.