I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.

Jesus spoke to the Apostles, and particularly to Peter, about "binding" and "loosing". The Catholic Church applies these statements to foundational doctrines such as ...

These doctrines are based on the meaning of the phrase "binding and loosing" as understood by the Jews in Jesus' time.


Biblical Passages ...

These Biblical passages concern ...

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19)

Jesus is speaking to Peter in the context of ...

Notice that Peter receives two powers ...

Note: The word "heaven" refers to God.

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. (Matthew 18:18)

Jesus is speaking to the disciples (including Peter) in the context of a passage about church discipline. Immediately after this, Jesus promises that God will do whatever two or more Christians agree on; and that Jesus will be present in their midst ...

Notice that the disciples receive a power ...

Note: The word "heaven" refers to God.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (John 20:22,23)

After His resurrection, Jesus is speaking to the disciples (including Peter) in the context of giving them the Holy Spirit. Notice that the disciples receive a power ...

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. (James 5:15,16)

The apostle James is speaking about the role of ordained elders.

Notice that the elders receive two powers (via their prayer of faith) ...

Notice also that the person who has sinned is to confess his sins (presumably to the same elders who are going to forgive his sins).


From these passages we see that various church leaders have the following powers ...

Some questions that come to mind (these are the topics of this article) ...


Binding and Loosing ...

There have been many interpretations of the phrase "binding and loosing." It is important to consider what this phrase meant to ...


Some possible meanings of the phrase "binding and loosing" ...

  1. The Jewish, rabbinic meaning:
    • Forbidding (binding) and permitting (loosing) particular activities of the Jewish community by the leaders who ...
      1. Establish discipline
      2. Interpret the law of God (the scriptures)
      3. Establish doctrine
    • Excommunication and reinstatement
    • The authority of the leaders (they have the power to bind and loose)
    • Things are bound and loosed, not people (or demons)

    Jesus gave this same power and authority to the Church via the apostles and their successors.

  2. In Charismatic and "Word/Faith" churches: The binding of demons and demonic forces in spiritual warfare. (But why would anyone want to loose demons?)

    Things that can be bound ...

    • Undesirable circumstances
    • Bad attitudes
    • Works of the flesh
    • Evil spirits
    • Financial difficulties

    Things that can be loosed ...

    • Desirable circumstances
    • Good attitudes
    • The fruit of the spirit
    • Angels
    • Wealth

  3. The meaning by various Early Church Fathers ...
    • The authority of the church to excommunicate or reinstate people in fellowship with the church (Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen).
    • Disciplinary action by the church (Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen).

  4. The meaning by various Protestant Reformers ...
    • The church's authority to forgive or retain sins (Martin Luther — but that everyone in the body of Christ has this power, not just the ordained leaders).

  5. Various meanings which focus on the authority and God-given powers of the Church ...
    • God (in heaven) granted the Church (on earth) the authority and responsibility to discipline Christians in the areas of ...
      • Determining the rules and laws that Christians are to obey.
      • Dealing with the sins of its members.

    • The authority of the church to administer the sacraments (binding) or to withhold the sacraments (loosing). A side-effect of this view is that binding and loosing therefore either grants them forgiveness of sins or bars them from forgiveness, since the sacraments are means of God's actual grace.

    • The church's authority to take disciplinary actions (such as excommunication) against sinning Christians (Matthew 18:15-17). Excommunication is "binding" and reinstating them is "loosing."

    • The Church provides authoritative teaching.

  6. Other Biblical passages that are connected to binding and loosing ...
    • Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matthew 12:29)

    • 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. (Matthew 18:19)

      Note: in the context, this passage is not about prayer but about church discipline.

  7. Some various miscellaneous meanings ...
    • The church's authority to address issues not specifically mentioned in the Bible by rules and laws which are binding on Christians.

    • Based on the usage of the perfect passive tense, the translation of Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 should be: Whatever is already bound/loosed in heaven you [Christians] shall bind/loose on earth. The church must obey the commands of God (His binding and loosing in heaven) by binding and loosing on earth what He has already bound and loosed in heaven.

    • Salvation by faith. It is God who initiates salvation (He grants it via binding or withholds it via loosing). This salvation is given to those who confess their faith in Christ as Peter did (by receiving it through faith [binding on earth] or rejecting it through lack of faith [loosing on earth]). (But this link to "confession" is missing in Matthew 18:18).

    • The same as remitting and retaining sins in John 20:23. Thus the church can declare as forgiven anyone who has been saved by their faith. God has "bound/remitted" their sins and the church merely ratifies this.

    • Baptism, which "binds" (removes) original sin. The original sin of those who refuse baptism are not "bound" (removed), but are instead "loosed" (God will judge and condemn that person).

    • The church can determine which part of the Jewish law still applies to Christians. For example, the church has "loosed" circumcision (it is not required for Christians), but the church has "bound" the Ten Commandments (which are still binding on Christians). The first church council in Acts 21 is an example of this.

    • From Matthew 18:15-20: The church can forgive the sins of a brother who has responded favorably to church discipline (they are "bound"), or the church can excommunicate those who refuse to repent (they are "loosed").

  8. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church ...

    QuotesMy comments

    In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. . . . The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.

    Section, 1444

    Peter and the apostles were given the power to "bind and loose". Jesus also gave them the power to forgive sins.

    The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.

    Section 1445

    The phrase "bind and loose" includes the authority of excommunication (Matthew 18:17. 1 Corinthians 5:13).

    The statement regarding reconciliation with the Church does not mean that only Catholics are saved.

    The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

    Section 881

    Notice that only Peter is given the keys.

    The power to "bind and loose" is given by Jesus twice: once to Peter only, and once to all the apostles. (Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18)

    An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.

    Section 1478

    The power to "bind and loose" includes the authority to issue indulgences.

    Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.

    Section 424

    The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus built His church on the faith of Peter.

    But as noted above, the Church also teaches that Jesus established the church as a college of bishops united to its head, the Pope.



The Keys ...

The meaning of the word "keys" ...


This Rock ...

The meaning of Jesus' statement that He would build the church on this "rock" ...


Are these Powers Passed-on to the Church? ...

It is important to consider whether the various powers given to the apostles were intended to be passed-on to future generations. And if so, then we must discern to whom they are passed-on. Some possibilities ...

Passages which indicate that these gifts are passed-on via ordination ...

Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22)

Laying-on of hands refers to ordination (more info).

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14)

The gift was given via ordination.

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money. (Acts 8:18)

The powers were transferred by the apostles via ordination to those who were not apostles. It is unlikely that this transferring of power was intended to stop with this second generation.

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. . . . (Ephesians 2:20)

The Church did not end after the apostles died; it was to continue. This implies that there was a way to determine and validate who was to be the church leaders of the next generation.

And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Isaiah 22:22)

There is a principle of succession in institutions established by God. These leaders have real power and authority to rule.

Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:6)

Since the apostles ordained (as deacons) the next generation of leaders we can assume that they intended this succession to continue into the future as well.

And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:3)

Since the apostles ordained the next generation of leaders we can assume that they intended this succession to continue into the future as well.

For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take. (Acts 1:20)

Even before Pentecost, Peter seemed to consider it very important to replace a leader. In doing so he sets the pattern for how the Church is to ordain future leaders. This passage also demonstrates that Peter had a unique leadership role and sets the stage for the doctrine of the papacy.

Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)

Paul had ordained Timothy and in doing so Timothy received gifts and powers. It seems reasonable to assume that this succession of leadership was to continue into the future of the church.

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)

The apostles intended to duplicate themselves in leaders in succeeding generations.

Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (Matthew 23:2,3)

Jesus commanded his followers to obey those leaders who were many generations distant from Moses. Likewise, He would expect the same obedience from those in the church many generations after the apostles: That Christians should obey those validly-ordained leaders just as the Jews were to obey the validly-ordained Jewish leaders.

But note that the people disobeyed this in following the high priest in shouting "crucify him." The people were to discern when the leaders were teaching error. Just so, Catholics should be discerning when Church leaders lead them into error.

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. (Ephesians 3:21)

There must be a church throughout all ages. Therefore, it would be necessary for each generation of church leaders to select others who are qualified to lead the church of the next generation. This implies some sort of ordination process.

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Certainly if we are to obey our secular rulers, we should also obey our religious leaders. This implies that we have religious leaders who are validly-ordained. The authority passed on is given to specific people; it is not conferred indiscriminately.

These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. (Titus 2:15)

The Church leaders have authority over the Church.

For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established. (Romans 1:11)

Paul may have been referring to ordaining some leaders for them


Other Biblical Passages ...

QuotesMy comments

Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

(Matthew 12:29)

Binding is a form of spiritual warfare.

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.

(Matthew 18:19)

Note: in the context, this passage is not about prayer but about church discipline.



Binding and Loosing

(Matthew 16:19) And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The context is that Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is and they have various opinions. Jesus then asks Peter what he thinks and Peter correctly answers, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus gives the keys to Peter which allows him to bind and loose. It seems that the gospel message is what is referred to; by accurately preaching the gospel, people can enter the kingdom of heaven. Verse 18 says much the same thing:

(Matthew 16:18) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The purpose of the church is to bring salvation to the world and this is done via the proclamation of the gospel. Peter and his confession of Christ's identity and mission will win out over the forces of darkness which are ever attempting to destroy souls.


The Catholic Church understands "binding" and "loosing" to mean that ordained bishops have the following powers:

The Bible uses the terms "binding" and "loosing" to mean the following:

The meanings given by the Catholic Church and the Bible don't match very well.


(Job 38:31) Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?

Possible meanings of the words "binding" and "loosing":

Bind the sweet influences of Pleiades: only God can create stars and constellations.

Loose the bands of Orion: humans have no power over stars and constellations.

Note that none of these meanings match those given by the Catholic Church.


(Matthew 12:29) Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

The context of this verse is Jesus explaining how he is able to cast out demons: by the power of God. Satan can't cast out demons because then Satan's kingdom would fall. In order to destroy the possessions in a strong man's house (Satan's kingdom) you first have to bind the strong man (Satan) who is protecting his possessions.

The word "bind" in this verse refers to rendering Satan unable to influence a situation through Christ's power and the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not match the Catholic use of the term.


(Isaiah 22:22) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

The words "open" and "shut" in the context of the word "key" reminds me of Matthew 16:19. In Isaiah 22:22 the key allows the person to open and shut. If the person with the key opens the door or gate, no one can shut it, and vice versa.

(Luke 11:52) Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

Notice that a key allows someone to enter in, presumably by opening a door or gate.

Thus the words "binding" and "loosing" refer to allowing access to something. The door or gate that the key is used to open or close is some sort of passageway between earth and heaven. If the keeper of the keys prevents people from entering then God can do nothing to allow them entry.

God works through the church and its proclamation of the gospel message of salvation.


(Revelation 3:7) And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.

Here we learn that Isaiah 22:22 refers to Christ. Just as no one can enter the kingdom of heaven except through hearing and believing the gospel message of salvation, so also no one can enter the kingdom of heaven except through Christ who opens the way for those of faith.


(Matthew 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.

Similar to Matthew 16:19. In Matthew 18:18 the disciples are given the same promise as Peter was in Matthew 16:19. But the context is very different.

The context of Matthew 18:18 is that the disciples asked who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus answered that a person needed to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. He warns them not to preach false doctrine and to deal with heretics and habitual sinners by discussing it with them and eventually excommunicating them if they won't repent. Then Jesus tells them that they can guide someone into the kingdom of heaven or prevent them from entering presumably based on their fidelity to their mission of preaching the gospel accurately. The next two verses are telling and appear to be on topic:

(Matthew 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.

When the disciples are planning how best to preach the gospel or when they are praying for someone's salvation, when asking for God's help, he will help them. This verse seems to be focused on preaching the gospel message, on working for people's salvation rather than on providing for answers to prayer in general. God always intervenes when we pray for their salvation or when we share the gospel. We might not see the results.

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

Apparently, when Christians agree together in prayer, they are guided by the Holy Spirit for what to ask for. Jesus is present is groups of Christians who are gathered in the name of Jesus (not just to watch the football game) much as Jesus is present in the Eucharist.


(Exodus 28:28) And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.

(Exodus 39:21) And they did bind the breastplate by his rings unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it might be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate might not be loosed from the ephod; as the LORD commanded Moses.

When you attach it properly it doesn't come loose.


The Keys of Peter

(Matthew 16:19) And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven immediately after he confesses that to Jesus, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

(Matthew 16:18) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The power of the keys seems to be necessary for the church to perform its mission. Peter is the rock; the confession of Peter about Christ is the foundation of the church. The keys allow entry to the kingdom of heaven. The question is whether or not the institutional Catholic Church is the kingdom of heaven. There are plenty of verses that say no:

(Matthew 8:11) And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven exists after the church is gone.

(Matthew 11:12) And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.

(Matthew 23:13) But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Notice that the kingdom of heaven existed before the church.

(Matthew 18:3) And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Entry to the kingdom of heaven is via conversion and becoming like children, not by becoming a member of an institution.

Those who receive the gospel through faith enter in to the kingdom of heaven and they are locked-in with the keys of Peter. (See Revelation 9:1 and Revelation 20:1.)


I've noticed that all the biblical passages about keys refer to something that the keys open:

None of these match the meaning given by the Catholic Church:

The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope. (Section 881)


(Revelation 1:18) I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

Jesus has the keys of hell and death. These keys are not the keys of Peter.

(Revelation 20:13,14) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

Jesus has the keys of hell and death because he releases for final judgment those who were trapped by them.

(Isaiah 22:22) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

(Revelation 3:7) And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.

These keys are keys to the palace of the kingdom established by David. There is no reason at all to claim that the keys given to Peter are the keys to the institutional Catholic Church. It would match this verse more to claim that the keys were keys to a political kingdom such as David's kingdom. But the Catholic Church doesn't claim to be this kind of a kingdom.

(Luke 11:52) Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

The key in this verse allows people to have correct knowledge. It seems to me that this is similar to the keys of Peter. Peter's keys lead to salvation through faith in the gospel message.

(Revelation 9:1) And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

(Revelation 20:1) And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

The key of these verses is to the bottomless pitwhere the wicked spirits are imprisoned. They are locked-in with the key. Perhaps we should include the idea that we are locked-in to the kingdom of heaven by Peter's keys.



Forgiving and Retaining Sins

(John 20:23) Whose soever sins ye remit [forgive], they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

Jesus commissioned the apostles:

(John 20:21,22) Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit and granted them the power to remit and retain sins. Here's how it worked:

(Acts 2:38) Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

(Acts 22:16) And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

The apostles would preach the gospel and people would receive it in faith and repent of their sins. Then the apostles would baptize them and their sins were forgiven. The apostles could choose who to baptize and who not to baptize based on their supernatural gift of discernment given to them by the Hopy Spirit. Thus, if they felt that someone's conversion was not genuine they could without baptism from them and there sins still remained.

Here is what the Catholic Church teaches about this:

In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. . . . The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head. (Section 1444)

As we saw in a previous section, the terms "binding" and "loosing" do not refer to sacramental absolution of sin by a priest. Satan is bound when his evil influence no longer results in a person's eternal damnation, when they are redeemed through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The preaching of the apostles is heard by fertile hearts prepared by the Holy Spirit and the redemptive transaction is completed via baptism. Thus, in preaching the gospel and performing baptism, the apostles forgive sins.

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. (Section 1478)

Question: Where is this in the Bible? Answer: Matthew 6:20. However, John 20:23 says nothing about this.



The Sacraments

In addressing some of the weird results of Catholic and Orthodox sacraments the explanation is given that God is not bound by the sacraments. The idea is that God instituted the sacraments to bless us and usually everything works out just fine. But in certain unusual circumstances God will ignore the sacramental principles and do whatever he wishes. Some examples: