Jesus uses a phrase a few times as he is teaching and speaking with his disciples. He talks about “binding” and “loosing”. For example, such as this in Matthew 18:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.Matthew 18:18
What is Jesus referring to here? What does it mean that someone would bind something on earth and it would be bound in heaven? Or that someone would loose something on earth and that it would be loosed in heaven?
This statement, initially to Peter after he declared Jesus to be the Christ, has been plucked out to be used and abused by the Roman Catholic Church, both in the past and even up to this very moment, giving scriptural authority to the idea of papal authority. But we see, actually, in this particular example, that Jesus doesn’t just give this authority to Peter, but he is actually speaking to the other disciples as well.
In addition, Jesus goes on to immediately talk about two of the disciples, and then even more, two or three that are gathered in Jesus’s name. We see that they have Jesus’s authority, and he is there with them when they are connected and gathered in his name.
But what do those statements mean: “Whatever you bind on earth…” or “whatever you loose on earth…”? These actually harken back to a Jewish way of saying “to forbid” or “to permit”. So to say “whatever you bind” would be to say “whatever you forbid”, and to say “whatever you loose” would be to say “whatever you permit”.
Now, if we misunderstand what Jesus was saying here, we could easily find ourselves thinking that Jesus left us in charge of making up our own plans, our own rules, because we could say that we have “bound” (forbidden) XYZ thing or we have “loosed” (permitted) ABC other thing. But to say this would be a significant misunderstanding and would lead us down the path that the Catholic church has gone as they decided to give authority to their pope to decree what he would decide that he wants to decree and it have the same level of authority as God’s word, or God Himself. Hmmm…
Obviously, I don’t subscribe to this point of view, and here is why:
If you look at what Jesus is talking about, in context, he is referring to calling someone back from sin. First, he talks about a man who owns a hundred sheep and then goes looking for the one that gets lost. He leaves the 99 and goes to look for the 1.
From there, he tells the disciples that if someone is in sin, the others should go to point out their fault. He then gives a process through which the person should be brought back into the community of believers. He talks about an individual going, then going with one or two others, and then finally taking the matter to the church, at which point, if the person still will not repent, they should, essentially, shun that person, sending them out of the church, out of the spiritual community within which they have been a part of together up to that point.
So it is within that context that Jesus says that “whatever you bind” or “whatever you loose” on earth will also be done in heaven. In other words, if they make a decision that someone should be brought back into the community after repenting from their sin, heaven will agree and it will be done. But if they believe that the person should be sent out because they are not repentant of their sin, heaven will also agree.
And what is more, Jesus is there with them. He is gathering together with them in their meeting, both in trying to reconcile the brother or sister that has been called out of their sin as well as in putting that person out of the community, should it come to that.