Binding and Loosing



Mat 18:18  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.


What does this mean bind and loose?

Who is Yahshua addressing? To whom is He imparting this authority?

How do Christian ministers teach this concept?


In Hebrew, Asar ve hitter - "binding and loosing"


This is a Rabbinical term for "forbidding and permitting."


In Josephus (Wars of the Jews 1:5:2) he writes: "The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees, "became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit who they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind." The various schools had the power to bind and to loose;" that is the power to forbid and to permit. (Talmud: Ta'anit 12a). 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 (Sifra, Emor, ix; Talmud: Makkot 23b).


"In this sense Yahshua, when appointing His disciples to be His successors, used the familiar formula (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18). By these words He virtually invested them with the same authority as that which He found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees who "bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers," that is, "loose them," as they have the power to do (Matthew 23:2-4)


A non-Jewish interpretation, equating binding and loosing with the remission of sins or retaining sins (John 20:23) was adopted by Tertullian and all the church fathers investing the head of the Church with the power to forgive sins, referred to on the basis of Matthew 16:18 as the "key power of the Church." This bears no relation to the Jewish context.


Mat 18:19  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

Mat 18:20  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.


The usual Christian view of vv 19-20 is that it defines a "Messianic minyan" not as the quorum of ten established by Halakhah (Talmud, Sanhedrin 2b) for public synagogue prayers, but as two or three assembled in Yahshua's name, plus Yahshua Himself, who is there with them (v. 20). The problem with this is that the passage is not about prayer although it is not wrong to make a Midrash on it, which does apply, to prayer.[1] Rather it relates to those Yahshua is addressing as having the power to regulate Messianic communal life (vv 15-17, commissioning them to establish refreshed covenant Halakhah, that is, to make authoritative decisions when there is a question about how Messianic life should be lived. In v. 19 Yahshua is teaching that when an issue is brought formally to a panel of two or three Messianic Community leaders, and they render a halakhic decision here on earth, they can be assured that the authority of YHVH in heaven stands behind them.


Compare the Mishna:

“Rabbi Chananyah ben-T’radyon said, ‘If two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Sh<khinah abides between them, as it is said, “Those who feared Adonai spoke together, and Adonai paid heed and listened, and a record was written before him for those who feared Adonai and thought on his name” (Malachi 3:16).’ ” (Avot 3:2)


The following extract from the Talmud provides a Jewish setting for both my understanding and the traditional Christian one.

“How do you know that if ten people pray together the Sh<khinah [“manifested divine presence”] is there with them? Because it is said, ‘God stands in the congregation of God’ (Psalm 82:1a) [and a “congregation” must have a minyan of at least ten]. And how do you know that if three are sitting as a court of judges the Sh<khinah is there with them? Because it is said, ‘In the midst of judges he renders judgment’ (Psalm 82:1b [taking elohim to mean “judges”; compare (Yn 10:34–36).” (B’rakhot 6a)

Thus, according to vv. 18–20 Yahshua's other talmidim join Kefa (16:19) in replacing “the Levitical cohanim and the judge who shall be in those days” (Deuteronomy 17:8–12) as the final earthly repository of halakhic authority. However, the new system was not established instantaneously; for later Yahshua could still advise the Jewish public to obey the Torah-teachers and P<rushim because they “sit in the seat of Moshe” (23:2–3). In fact, even today, two thousand years later, the new system has hardly been established at all—Messianic communal practice is far more ad hoc and makes far less use of received wisdom and established precedents than one might expect.

The unity of subject matter in vv. 15–20 is also seen in the fact that “two or three” is found in both v. 16 and vv. 19–20. Moreover, it is then evident that v. 21 continues the topic begun in v. 15 (how communal Messianic life is to be lived), without what otherwise is an irrelevant digression to another subject (reassurance about prayer).

The following expansion of v. 19 further clarifies its meaning: “To repeat (Greek kai, “and, moreover”) [and fortify in other language what I have just said in v. 18], I tell you that if two of you [Messianic community leaders] agree on the answer to any halakhic question or matter of public order that people ask you about, then it [the halakhic decision you make] will be for them [the people who asked the question] as if it had come directly from my Father in heaven.” In v. 20 Yahshua strengthens this statement by promising his own presence and authority in such situations.

Nevertheless, one may regard the traditional Christian understanding of vv. 19–20 as a drash in which a prayer context is supplied (by allowable eisegesis, see 2:15) in a homily reassuring believers that their prayers are “powerful and effective” (Ya 5:16).





[1] Matthew 2:15            Out of Egypt I called my son. Hosea 11:1 clearly refers not to the Messiah but to the people of Israel, who were called God’s son even before leaving Egypt (Exodus 4:22). The previous two Tanakh quotations (1:23, 2:6) involved literal fulfillment, but this does not. In what sense, then, does Yahshua's flight to Egypt fulfill what Adonai had said through the prophet?

To answer, we must understand the four basic modes of Scripture interpretation used by the rabbis. These are:

(1)      P<shat (“simple”)—the plain, literal sense of the text, more or less what modern scholars mean by “grammatical-historical exegesis,” which looks to the grammar of the language and the historical setting as background for deciding what a passage means. Modern scholars often consider grammatical-historical exegesis the only valid way to deal with a text; pastors who use other approaches in their sermons usually feel defensive about it before academics. But the rabbis had three other modes of interpreting Scripture, and their validity should not be excluded in advance but related to the validity of their implied presuppositions.

(2)      Remez (“hint”)—wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p<shat. The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware.

(3)      Drash or midrash (“search”)—an allegorical or homiletical application of a text. This is a species of eisegesis—reading one’s own thoughts into the text—as opposed to exegesis, which is extracting from the text what it actually says. The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which God can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.

(4)  Sod (“secret”)—a mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like. For example, two words, the numerical equivalents of whose letters add up to the same amount, are good candidates for revealing a secret through what Arthur Koestler in his book on the inventive mind called “bisociation of ideas.” The implied presupposition is that God invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters.

The presuppositions underlying remez, drash and sod obviously express God’s omnipotence, but they also express his love for humanity, in the sense that he chooses out of love to use extraordinary means for reaching people’s hearts and minds. At the same time, it is easy to see how remez, drash and sod can be abused, since they all allow, indeed require, subjective interpretation; and this explains why scholars, who deal with the objective world, hesitate to use them.


These four methods of working a text are remembered by the Hebrew word “PaRDeS,” an acronym formed from the initials; it means “orchard” or “garden.”


What, then, is Mattityahu doing here? Some allege he is misusing Scripture, twisting the meaning of what Hosea wrote from its context in order to apply it to Yahshua. Such an accusation stands only if Mattityahu is dealing with the p<shat. For there is no question that the p<shat of Hosea 11:1 applies to the nation of Israel and not to Yahshua.

Some think Mattityahu is using the drash approach, making a midrash in which he reads the Messiah into a verse dealing with Israel. Many rabbis used the same procedure; Mattityahu’s readers would not have found it objectionable.

Nevertheless, I believe Mattityahu is not doing eisegesis but giving us a remez, a hint of a very deep truth. Israel is called God’s son as far back as Exodus 4:22. The Messiah is presented as God’s son a few verses earlier in Mattityahu (1:18–25), reflecting Tanakh passages such as Isaiah 9:5–6(6–7), Psalm 2:7 and Proverbs 30:4. Thus the Son equals the son: the Messiah is equated with, is one with, the nation of Israel. This is the deep truth Mattityahu is hinting at by calling Yahshua's flight to Egypt a “fulfillment” of Hosea 11:1.

This fact, that the Messiah Yahshua stands for and is intimately identified with his people Israel, is an extremely important corporate aspect of the Gospel generally neglected in the individualistically oriented Western world. The individual who trusts Yahshua becomes united with him and is “immersed” into all that Yahshua is including his death and resurrection—so that his sin nature is regarded as dead, and his new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is regarded as alive (Ro 6:3–6). Likewise, just as this intimate identification with the Messiah holds for the individual, so the Messiah similarly identifies with and embodies national, corporate Israel. Indeed it is only because Yahshua identifies himself with the Jewish people, national Israel, the “olive tree” into which Gentile Christians have been “grafted” (Ro 11:17–24), that he can plausibly identify with the Messianic Community as “head of the Body” (1C 11:3; Eph. 1:10, 22; 4:15, 5:23; Co 1:18, 2:19) and “cornerstone” of the building (below at 21:42, Mk 12:10, Ac 4:11, Eph 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6–7).

Modern readers of the Bible, by using “grammatical-historical exegesis,” ignore all modes of interpretation except the p<shat, discounting them as eisegesis. This is in reaction to the tendency of the Church Fathers in the second through eighth centuries to over-allegorize, an error which probably resulted from their misunderstanding the limitations of, and therefore misusing, the other three rabbinic approaches to texts. But the New Testament is a Jewish book, written by Jews in a Jewish context; and the first-century Jewish context included all four ways of handling texts. Mattityahu knew perfectly well that Hosea was not referring to Yahshua, to a Messiah, or even to any individual. Yet he also sensed that because Yahshua in a profound yet recondite way embodies Israel, his coming from Egypt re-enacted in a spiritually significant way the Exodus of the Jewish people. Since remez and p<shat have different presuppositions one should expect fulfillment of a prophecy by remez to be different from literal fulfillment. At 1:23 and 2:6 the plain, literal sense of the text, the p<shat, suffices to show how the prophecies are fulfilled, but here it does not.