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What does the phrase “binding and loosing,” as mentioned in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18, refer to?

Full Question

What does the phrase “binding and loosing,” as mentioned in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18, refer to?


“Binding and loosing” is a phrase which comes from the rabbis. It refers to the authority to make decisions binding on the people of God.

This authority includes interpreting and applying the Word of God and admitting people to and excommunicating them from the community of faith. For the Jews this meant the community of Israel. For Christians this means the Church.

In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gives this authority over his Church to Peter: “Whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

In Matthew 18:18, he gives the power to all the apostles: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This singling out of Peter to bestow on him an authority which is later to be given to all the apostles shows Peter’s preeminence within the apostolic college. What the apostles as a whole possessed as leaders of the Church, Peter possessed as an individual.

Of course, he, as the earthly head of the Church, also possessed powers which all the other apostles, even collectively, didn’t possess: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:19).


  1. Noel David Reply

    From what I understand of this phrase of “Binding and Losing” – it has nothing to do with admitting and kicking out people or excommunicating them for this reason or that reason or caring for only those who are “OBEDIENT TO GOD” or toe the line of our religious leaders….. If that was so, the Lord himself would have kicked out Judas and even Peter and the rest for betraying him, denying him or ditching him (the Lord knew very much beforehand what these men were going to do – even before they actually commited these faults or crimes – and He did not kick them out or excommunicate them)….. And there were many others who were selfish, stubborn, unbelievers and hard-hearted from among the people who came to HIM – and He never turned away ANYONE who came to HIM ….)… These very facts goes to prove that the LORD AND MASTER of the HARVEST – allows the wheat (the useful/faithful) and the weeds (useless/unfaithful) to grow together….

    The Lord my God never has to say sorry or apologise for any misdeed – for HE IS NEVER WRONG OR UNFAIR….. whereas the Church (Clergy and Laity) admits to lapses by its members and apologises for wrongdoings by its members (mainly by bishops/priests/nuns i.e. Church… for every baptised member is part of the Church – and we the faithful and including the all the religious from the Pope, all the bishops, priests and nuns – do bow before the Lord and say the I confess – where we admit to God our failures and sinfulness by repeating “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault….And as Catholics when we say or pray the Rosary we repeat 53 times PRAY FOR US SINNERS…which goes to prove that NONE OF US from top to bottom are PERFECT OR SINLESS… )… And this very fact goes to prove that the Church makes mistakes again and again and can be wrong in many ways…. And such people cannot be making the right decision as to who is worthy of salvation and who is not…. One has to be totally upright and righteous to take such decisions and that is why the MASTER/FARMER asks His servants/laborers (i.e. apostles, disciples, followers, clergy and laity and who have you) not to pull out the weeds lest they pull out the wheat as well in their blind haste to keep their flock/family/community clean… So, weeding out and excommunication is best left to the Son of David, the Master and True Shepherd…. which will be meted out on JUDGMENT DAY… The LABORERS (Clergy and Elders in the Church) should simply concentrate in watering (loving) and nurturing (caring) the plants (sheep/faithful) without ceasing….

    By giving them this authority (I would rather say, responsibility) to bind and lose has to be taken in this manner… i.e. they (clergy – servants/laborers in the Lord’s Vineyard/Church/World) should see that they do not LOSE a single sheep by their heartless, stubborn, unfair and inhumane deeds/methods – whereby many a sheep are bound to lose heart and go astray and be doomed….. To avoid this losing of each and every sheep, they must keep them together (BIND at any cost) with utmost love, understanding, equity and humane ways…. so that not a single sheep is lost…. Therefore the RESPONSIBILITY given to them is indeed very demanding and crucial which should not be taken lightly…. for the salvation of ALL the sheep (those in the flock and many more who are not in the flock or belong to the flock) are at stake….

  2. Rene Reply

    You have spoken too much Brother Noel but maybe you have misunderstood the context of excommunication as emphasized in the bible.

    “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, TELL IT TO THE CHURCH; and IF HE REFUSES TO LISTEN TO THE CHURCH, TREAT HIM AS YOU WOULD A PAGAN OR A TAX COLLECTOR. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:15-18

    There is a process in the bible in excommunicating a person.

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