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Guest Blogger: The Keys of the Kingdom and Binding and Loosing

Posted by on Sep 26, 2011 in community, guest blogger, scripture | 8 comments

Guest Blogger: The Keys of the Kingdom and Binding and Loosing

I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.

(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)

Today’s post was written by Jan Willem van Borselen. You can contact Jan via email at WhatsInScripture [at] gmail [dot] com.


I enjoyed what Alan wrote about authority in the church. About two years ago I reached the same conclusion that the fact that Paul directed most of his letters at the churches and not at specific leaders, is very telling about how he viewed where authority in the church was placed: not with the “leadership” but within the community as a whole.

I also made, for me, a startling discovery that Jesus was addressing this in his teaching on the matter of binding and loosing. Having a charismatic background I heard a lot of teaching that didn’t do justice to what Jesus was really saying here.

In the Jewish Encyclopedia I found the following:

Binding and loosing
Rabbinical term for “forbidding and permitting”… The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees, says Josephus, “became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind.” This does not mean that, as the learned men, they merely decided what, according to the Law, was forbidden or allowed, but that they possessed and exercised the power of tying or untying a thing by the spell of their divine authority, just as they could, by the power vested in them, pronounce and revoke an anathema upon a person.

This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin, received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice.

The terms were in those days apparently closely associate with leaders exercising authority over other people, and not, as I was taught, with exercising authority over demons or situations.

Keeping this in mind while reading the following passage:

If your brother wrongs you, go and show him his fault, between you and him privately. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that every word may be confirmed and upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he pays no attention to them [refusing to listen and obey], tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you forbid and declare to be improper and unlawful on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit and declare proper and lawful on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven. Again I tell you, if two of you on earth agree (harmonize together, make a symphony together) about whatever [anything and everything] they may ask, it will come to pass and be done for them by My Father in heaven. For wherever two or three are gathered (drawn together as My followers) in (into) My name, there I AM in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:15-20)

It stands out that Jesus turned this concept, as described by Josephus, completely upside down: The authority to make decisions no longer was placed in the hands of the leadership but among the common people meeting even in groups as small of two or three, experiencing the fellowship with the one who has all authority. Likewise, dealing with a sinner was no longer the responsibility of leaders but in the first place the responsibility of brothers around him or her. The final decision to expel someone was to be done by the whole assembly and not by a leader or the leadership. We can see that Paul followed this same principle when he wrote:

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)


What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

He addressed the assembly as a whole and not a specific leader.

In this teaching about binding and loosing Jesus completely leaves out the role of leaders even though this was exactly what was considered an important part of their role. For the people who have been raised in a society that was to a high degree controlled by the Sanhedrin, this must have been a shocking statement. For the leaders this must have been a severe threat to their position.

Maybe you already knew this but for me it was new and never heard it explained in this way.

God bless!

Jan Willem van Borselen


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-26-2011

    I certainly agree that Matt 18 does indeed refute the idea of an individual or even a select group of individuals making a decision for a gathered group of believers, but I have never been convinced that Christ’s rabbinic style teaching in Matt 18 on pursuing the wandering sheep, determining if one is to be considered as a gentile or a tax collector and supernatural generous forgiveness “seventy times seven” is speaking of expelling someone from an assembly. It seems that the situation of notorious incest and adultery Paul addresses in 1 Cor. 5 and the divisive person in Titus 3, have been sewn together into a proof-texted Frankenstein doctrine of “church discipline”-when very different situations, circumstances and courses of action are prescribed for each.

  2. 9-26-2011


    I also think that Matthew 18 is dealing with interpersonal relationships (i.e. brother to brother). The church (community in Christ) can certainly be involved with this reconciliation. And, 1 Cor 5 deals with a more pertinent community issue. In either one, though, the ideas of “binding and loosing” are very important, even if the two episodes are not directly connected.


  3. 9-26-2011

    I could not agree more. 🙂

  4. 9-26-2011

    Jan Willem, is that Matthew quotation from the Amplified Bible? I have problems with the rendering “must be what is already forbidden in heaven … must be what is already permitted in heaven”. The unusual Greek tense here does not have a “must be” modal force, but is indicative, future perfect: “will already have been forbidden/permitted”. So the verse is not teaching that believers should follow heaven’s decisions, but that heaven will uphold believers’ decisions. This seems to agree with your interpretation of the passage, but not with the translation you use here. I suspect this is a case of a translation being distorted to fit a theological agenda – very likely against Roman Catholic interpretations of the very similar 16:19.

    But then how would you interpret 16:19?

  5. 9-26-2011

    Very interesting perspective and much appreciated. Interesting sidenote: there was an artist named Jan Willem Van Borselen who died in 1892. Any relation…or is your guest blogger using a nomme de plume? ;_)

  6. 9-26-2011

    Leah Randall:

    My parents named me after this painter and indeed I am a descendant of him. Nothing inherited from his painting skills though!

    Peter Kirk:

    Yes it is quoted out of the Amplified, and I agree with your observation about the way it is translated. I noticed this too as I was reviewing what I wrote and was trying to rewrite and expand. As I wrote it in Dutch first, with a quotation from a dutch Bible which didn’t render it in the way the Amplified did, it escaped my attention when copying it from the Amplified.
    Unfortunately there are too many other things going on at the moment to be able to expand on what I wrote in the way I want.

    What I would like is to draw a line from Samuels warning against the desire to have a king. Go to the leaderships structure as proposed by Jethro to Moses. Bring this into perspective with Gods’ answer to Moses when he had to choose seventy of the elders who would receive the Spirit. Follow this line into the time that Jesus was on earth and the binding and loosing was mainly done by the greater Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Review this Sanhedrin, which took its concept from the 70 elders Moses had to choose and not from Jethro’s model. As I wrote in the guest post, Jesus rejected this system of the Sanhedrin and I want to show how this relates to the outpouring of the Spirit “on all flesh” and not just on seventy elders.
    For the time being I have to keep this on hold though.

    How to interpret Mt. 16:19?
    Because Jesus switches words from “you are Peter” (a stone) to “on this petra” (large stone, rock) I believe He does not mean Peter personally. If so, He could have said “and on you I will build my church”.
    The way I view this at this moment, is that Jesus primarily builds His church on the revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Son of God (Mt. 16:16) As living stones we are being build into His church. Because Peter got this revelation, he was one of the first stones Jesus would use in a special way as an Apostle.
    Based on Rev . 21:14 I do believe all the first Apostle fulfilled the same foundational role without Peter taking a special (higher?) position in this:
    “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb”
    Their being part of the foundation of the wall shows their position as servants and not as heads or masters of the church.

    Just as in this picture of the heavenly Jerusalem, I see the role of leadership as being involved in creating space and protection for a place where Jesus Himself directly relates with His people and is indeed their only head. A space not occupied by any other man.
    A wall is important and necessary but it is not at the center of life in the city. It “only” enables and supports it.

  7. 9-27-2011

    I’m glad that we’re discussing these passages. To me, the “binding and loosing” is similar to what Jesus says in Matthew 6: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV)

    Does anyone else think these concepts are related?


  8. 9-27-2011

    Jan Willem, thank you for your reply. You are clearly doing some interesting work on leadership and I wouldn’t want to disagree with your thoughts as expressed here. And thank you for directing me to Exodus 18, where Moses’ role as outlined by Jethro was not to be God’s representative before the people but the people’s representative before God (v.19). This observation may have a large effect on how we view leadership in the church and in our nations.