When Peter made his great confession of faith in Matthew 16:16, Jesus responded by saying in verses 18-19:
"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. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
This power of binding and loosing (whatever it may imply) was given to the other apostles as well as to Peter, according to Matthew 18:18; and in John 20:23 Jesus is recorded as saying to the eleven:
"Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained."
Does the power of binding and loosing have any connection
with the power of remitting and retaining sins? Are they
identical in meaning? Alford and others deny that such is the
case. The purpose of their objection, of course, is to counter
the Roman Catholic claim that they are identical, and that the
intent of Jesus was to bestow on the Apostles (and their
supposed successors) the power of forgiving an individual's sins
upon his confession of those sins.
It is not necessary to accept this extreme Roman Catholic position in order to believe that the two passages in question had reference to the same power. In fact when these passages are seen in their true light, the Roman Catholic notion is completely set aside.
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The failure to understand these two passages arises from
the fact that a third idea, which must be considered with the
idea of binding and loosing and the idea of remitting and
retaining sins, has been ignored. Immediately before Jesus said
to Peter: "Whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,"
he said: "I give unto thee the keys of the kingdom." It is obviously as
a result of possession of the keys of the kingdom that he would
have the power to bind or loose. Now a key represents the
power to open a door or to keep it shut; and it seems to be
fairly well agreed among conservative scholars that these keys
represent the ability, through proclamation of the gospel, to
open the Kingdom of Heaven to those who are without.
Strangely enough, opening a door, loosing, and remitting sins are synonymous ideas in Hebrew; and can be expressed by the same Hebrew word. Likewise, shutting a door, binding, and retaining are synonymous ideas and can also be expressed by the same Hebrew word. The words, atsar and cala both mean to shut, and to retain. Chazaq means to bind and to retain. Asar means to bind, to shut up (to hold in prison), while chabash and tsarar have all three meanings: to bind, to shut up and to retain. Five different verbs: padah, para, chalats, azab and natach, have the double meaning of to remit, and to loose. Pathach means to loose and to open. Chalal has three meanings: to loose, to open and to remit.
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From these facts it appears that when Jesus gave to
Peter (and the other Apostles) the keys of the kingdom, and
said: "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and
whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,"
he was simply saying that by their use of the keys they would be
instrumental in loosing men from their sins. If they neglected
to use the keys they would be leaving men bound in their sins
- would in effect be binding them. Then, in his
post-resurrection appearance to the eleven he reaffirmed and
clarified this power which they had received. In case there was
any doubt in their minds as to the nature of this power, he
assured them that it involved the remitting and retaining of
men's sins. The notion that he was giving them the authority
to personally forgive sins upon their confession has no support
elsewhere in the New Testament. If they possessed such
authority, it seems incredible that Paul and the other N.T.
writers should not have mentioned it at least once. The
passages rather teach the doctrinally and scripturally supported
fact that when the door of the kingdom is opened, men are
loosed from their bonds - their sins are remitted. When and
where the door is left shut, men are left bound in their bonds
- their sins are retained.
We have noted the agreement among scholars that the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven represent the gospel of Christ - that is, the good news of remission of sins through the power of his death, burial and resurrection. Thus, we find that immediately after saying to Peter "I will give unto thee the keys...,":
" Jesus from that time forth
began to show unto His disciples, how that he must go unto
Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief
priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the
By thus announcing the gospel to them in advance, he kept his
promise to give unto them the Keys of the Kingdom.
John H Mattox