Binding and Loosing of Sins

Posted by Thaddaeus

Matthew 18: 15-21

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.  Amen, 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.  Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”


Background:  The singular form of the word Church (Gk., “ekklesia”) is used only twice in the New Testament: once in connection with Peter’s profession of faith and another here.  Both times in connection with binding and loosing.  In the first instance, the promise of the keys is given to Peter alone.  The symbol of the keys indicates that Peter and his successors have final say in all matters for the entire church of Jesus.  Otherwise, the words of Jesus are reduced to nonsense.  In the second instance, Jesus confers on the rest of the disciples the power to bind and loose sin in the confessional.  It is signifies delegated authority over their local congregation; rather than the entire church of Jesus.  Words that are used twice have special significance.  Two represents the authority of the Second Person of the Trinity.  The law of Moses requires that every fact be proved by the testimony of, at least, two witnesses.


Binding and Loosing of Sins:  Many Protestant scholars understand this passage as granting to all the disciples what was previously given to Peter alone.  However, the Catholic Church views that the two verses have different contexts.  Only Peter is promised the key of the House of David.  There are many instances in rabbinic literature of the binding and loosing imagery.  Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, writes that disputes were so numerous in Jesus’ time that the expression “to bind and loose” is a standard reference to their endless disagreements.  Moses had final say over religious, legislative and judicial authority.  Jesus establishes a hierarchy within His Church: first Peter, then the three Peter, James and John, then the rest of the Apostles.  Here the Apostles are given subordinate religious, legislative and judicial authority.  Thus, the entire Church can be appealed to it for judicial purposes universally.