Matthew 16:19 — Binding and Loosing

By Wayne Jackson

Jesus once said to Peter, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

This is one of the texts employed by Roman Catholic authorities to buttress their conviction of the “primacy of Peter.” They argue that the Lord, by this language, was granting to his apostle “the right to teach and govern authoritatively, with the certainty of God’s approval” (B.L. Conway, The Question Box, p. 145). The assertion is false for the following reasons.

First, the promise of binding and loosing, granted here to Peter, is also acknowledged of the entire apostolic group. Jesus later declared:

“I say unto you [plural — the apostles] what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Peter was not given any special primacy in terms of authority.

Second, the grammar of the passage suggests the very opposite of the claim made by Catholic theologians. The verbal forms “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed,” in the Greek New Testament, are perfect tense, passive voice participles. The perfect tense suggests that the binding and loosing had already occurred, and the effects of that action would remain.

The passage may thus be translated as follows: “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (NASB).

A full discussion of this matter is found in Boyce Blackwelder’s Light From The Greek New Testament, pp. 74-80.

Underline “bound” and “loosed” in your Testament, and in the margin note: Greek tense indicates that binding/loosing had already occurred; the apostles were to concur.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.