What Have You Got to “Loose”?

Let”s turn again to Matthew 16:19, where Our Lord says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Part of giving Peter the “keys” involved the authority to “bind and loose.” As we see a couple chapters later in Matthew, this was an authority shared with the other apostles (Mt. 18:18).

This “binding and loosing” authority may sound strange to us, but this language had several familiar meanings in Jesus’ time, including: [more]

(a) the ability to make “binding” decisions or binding interpretations of the law;
(b) the authority to include or exclude members in a given community; and
(c) the forgiveness of sins (“loosing” in the sense of releasing or freeing from sins) (see Rev. 1:5; see generally Catechism, nos. 553, 881).

All these meanings come into play with Peter as Christ’s prime minister or vicar who has been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom and made head of the apostles and pastor of the universal Church.

The authority to “bind and loose” was confirmed and fulfilled on Easter Sunday, when Our risen Lord appeared to His disciples and breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:22-23).   

I don”t know about you, but the consideration of the “binding and loosing” authority entrusted to Peter and the other apostles gives me a greater appreciation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Tomorrow we will conclude this series by considering papal succession. After all, one might argue, it”s one thing to concede that certain authority was given to Peter; it”s quite another thing to say that this authority has been passed in an unbroken succession up to Pope Benedict XVI. We will tackle that issue in the next post.

2 Responses to “What Have You Got to “Loose”?”

  1. petebrown says:

    I think I could add one meaning of "bind" which relates to the power of exorcism, as in binding the strong man before plundering his house (Matt 12:29). In this case it connotes a great power over evil in the sense of power of Peter and the Church (Matt 18:15) to plunder the devil”s kingdom–I think this is where forgiveness of sins comes in—much more in other words than hearing confessions (though it surely gets at that too on some level). It”s more exciting for me to think of it as a clash between kingdoms.

    And you”re right that it does mean power to excommunicate as well–in ways that have eschatological consequences, which comes in handy since the Church in Matthew is more clearly presented as a mixed body of saints and sinners than in any other gospel. See for instance the eschatological "binding" of the weeds in Matt 13:30 and the poorly dressed wedding guest in 22:13.

    And you”re also right that it can mean power to regulate in manner that binds consciences. For instance, the Scribes and Pharisees "bind heavy burdens hard to bear and lay them on men”s shoulder”s (matt 23:4)."

    The other uses of "bind" have to do with binding Jesus and John at their arrests and untying a bound colt–presumably these aren”t as relevant. I”ll look us "loose" when I have more time.


  2. leon says:

    Great insights, Pete. And while I haven”t done a word study on it myself, forgiveness of sins (or even of debt, say in a jubilee year) had a sense of "release," which certainly would encompass exorcism.

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