Matthew 16:18-19; a closer look, part 2

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 16:19

Peter was to be given “the keys of the Kingdom of heaven” a sign of great authority (cf. Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7, 9:1. 10:1) yet nothing about this tells us that Peter will determine who enters and who does not. Thus, when you “die and go to heaven” you won’t find old Peter sitting at the gate with a clipboard. The term “kingdom” refers always to God who reigns actively over His people, and the term “church” refers to the people over whom God reigns. At no time, does Peter, or anyone else reign over the Kingdom.

With that said, there is still authority being given to Peter in this verse, and it is made very clear by Jesus’ reference to “binding” and “loosing”: what is this authority?

For us to understand these terms, we much first recognize that they have a technical background in rabbinical Judaism. They refer to pronouncements given to the people that reflected rabbinic interpretations of the Law and what was allowed and what was prohibited by the Law concerning matters of conduct. Thus, we should not understand these terms to suggest that Peter, or anyone else, would be able to allow or prohibit an individual from participation in the Christian community, for “whatever” does not refer to a person, but to a thing. Clearly, then, Peter, and later the other disciples as well (18:17-18) were given the authority to determine which practices would be, and would not be permissible in light of God’s reign over the church. This did not give Peter or anyone else the authority to make arbitrary and capricious decrees, instead they would bring instruction concerning God’s will to the people, in much the same way as a preacher will teach his congregation about what is or isn’t permissible personal conduct in our time, based upon the instruction of the Scriptures; remember, the early church did not yet have the teaching of the New Testament.

In the early church, the people recognized the authority of the apostles as they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). In this way, we can state authoritatively that “God’s household (was) built on the foundation of the apostles…” (Eph. 2:19-20).  In this, Peter played the critical leadership role in the early church, as we see in Acts 1-12.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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10 Responses to Matthew 16:18-19; a closer look, part 2

  1. Tony Casson says:

    Merry Christmas, ewell!



    “No matter the words you say, if you say them without the other person being able to feel them then the meeting has already failed.” Sash Dichter’s Blog

  2. In the Greek, it reads, “Whatever you bind on earth has already been bound in heaven. Also, he repeated the giving of keys to all the apostles in chapter 18.

  3. I know you already knew that.

  4. An interesting point, it is never reported that Peter lauded his authority over the other Apostles, nor that he ever considered himself infallible. The Apostles seemed to act as a committee with regards to what was and was not permitted. As an example, the conflict over joining requirements for Gentiles as brought up by Paul.

  5. Citizen Tom says:

    I was raised as a Catholic. That hardly makes me an expert on the Catholic Church’s doctrine, but I do understand that the Pope’s authority rests largely on this passage of scripture (Matthew 16:13-20). Yet when I read this passage as a teenager, I just thought: really?

    As a student of history, I could see that there had been some great popes and some awful ones. So much for papal infallibility.

    One of the notions that also gained currency early in church history is that to be a member of the clergy, one had to show that one had to be ordained by a bishop who could trace his ordination back to one of the apostles. Yet that obviously does not apply to the Apostle Paul, for example. Apparently, Jesus can call whoever He wants to serve Him, and scripture says He has done so. Hence, the Catholic clergy’s special claims of authority are dubious, at best.

    As some of your earlier commenters observed in the previous post, we have to let the text say what it says. We have no right to load our personal agenda onto it. In fact, the Bible explicitly calls that sinful. And when people see Christians doing that, it just weakens whatever faith they might have had in the Bible.

    That said, all of us Christians, not just Catholics, have a tendency to find whatever we want to find in the Bible. Thank you for encouraging us to be more circumspect.

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