In Matthew 18, Jesus tells his disciples,

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18 NASB)

To what is Jesus referring in this passage "What exactly is being Loosened and Bound?" and what does he mean by this?

  • 1
    "You" in the passage does not refer to you, @Decrypted, it refers to the people to whom Jesus was speaking. As noted in Matthew 18:1, this is the apostles. You are the secondary audience. The reason this was unclear is because you threw a random passage out with the question "is it better to be loosened or bound". Your edit helped clarify, but it was still a pretty disheveled question. Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 2:32
  • It seems to me that in any case this is a duplicate of "What would Peter “bind” or “loose” on earth?" If it is re-opened, it would probably just need to be closed again, but at least it would link the duplicate to the prior Q&A.
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 10:35
  • I think the question edit was really bad, the question was understandable although a little confusing. The original question has nothing to do with what the edit changed it into. The question was not about WHAT, it was about the effect. Someone should undo the question edit and help clarify the question that was actually asked. Futhermore even if the question is about the what, it's not a duplicate of the one asked of Matthew 16. Two questions about a similar topic aren't duplicates if they're asking about two different passages. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:24
  • @MichahGafford: Decrypted specifically edited his question to clarity that it was about what stating Looking for a defining of "What" - "What's Loosened?" and "What's Bound?" so clearly his question was about WHAT. Furthermore, the passage in question is Matt 18, not 16 and finally, you clearly didn't read David's linked question because it is specifically asking about the same passage (Matt 18). This pericope just happens to be addressed to the disciple Peter. Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 4:27
  • @JamesShewey, should we take all of Matt 18 as instructions to only the apostles and not the wider church? If not, where did the pivot from giving general instructions to the church turn to only the apostles? Is the church supposed to handle disagreements in line with 15-17, or is that only for the apostles? The disconnect you're implying doesn't make any sense to me. It seems there is a deeper lesson being conveyed to all of us, in the same spirit as Matt 6:14.
    – pbarney
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 18:12

6 Answers 6


This should be understood in the earlier context of the book, in which St. Peter is given the "keys" of the kingdom of heaven, which seem to be entrusted to Peter's authority alone (nay, in this instance, they are given to him alone—just as in John Peter alone is entrusted with Christ's sheep: John 21:15-17), yet seemingly to the Church as a whole ("keys" plural), in the form of the elders (or, bishops) of the Church as a unit, in unison, only seen in Chapter 18 with a specific interpretation or application thereof given by Jesus as He says it.

So earlier in Matthew we read:

Matthew 16:13-20 (NASB) (bold/notes mine)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter [Rock], and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

Jesus is echoing what was said by God to the 'prime minister' or steward of the Davidic Kingdom, Shebna (concerning Eliakim):

Isaiah 22:21-22 (NASB)

And I will clothe him with your tunic And tie your sash securely about him. I will entrust him with your authority, And he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, When he opens no one will shut, When he shuts no one will open.

The Jewish Encyclopedia for 'Binding and Loosing' says the following concerning this authority (footnotes/bold mine):

Rabbinical term for "forbidding and permitting." The expression "asar" (to bind herself by a bond) is used in the Bible (Num. xxx. 3 et seq.) for a vow which prevents one from using a thing. It implies binding an object by a powerful spell in order to prevent its use (see Targ. to Ps. lviii. 6; Shab. 81b, for "magic spell"). The corresponding Aramean "shera" and Hebrew "hittir" (for loosing the prohibitive spell) have no parallel in the Bible.

The power of binding and loosing was always claimed by the Pharisees. Under Queen Alexandra, the Pharisees, says Josephus ("B J." i, 5, § 2), "became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind." This does not mean that, as the learned men, they merely decided what, according to the Law, was forbidden or allowed, but that they possessed and exercised the power of tying or untying a thing by the spell of their divine authority, just as they could, by the power vested in them, pronounce and revoke an anathema upon a person. The various schools had the power "to bind and to loose"; that is, to forbid and to permit (Ḥag. 3b); and they could bind any day by declaring it a fast-day (Meg. Ta'an. xxii.; Ta'an. 12a; Yer. Ned. i. 36c, d). This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age or in the Sanhedrin (see Authority), received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, ix.; Mak. 23b).

In the New Testament.

In this sense Jesus, when appointing his disciples to be his successors, used the familiar formula (Matt. xvi. 19, xviii. 18). By these words he virtually invested them with the same authority as that which he found belonging to the scribes and Pharisees1 who "bind heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but will not move them with one of their fingers"; that is, "loose them," as they have the power to do (Matt. xxiii. 2-4). In the same sense, in the second epistle of Clement to James II. ("Clementine Homilies," Introduction), Peter is represented as having appointed Clement as his successor, saying: "I communicate to him the power of binding and loosing so that, with respect to everything which he shall ordain in the earth, it shall be decreed in the heavens; for he shall bind what ought to be bound and loose what ought to be loosed as knowing the rule of the church." Quite different from this Judaic and ancient view of the apostolic power of binding and loosing is the one expressed in John xx. 23, where Jesus is represented as having said to his disciples after they had received the Holy Spirit: "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." It is this view which, adopted by Tertullian and all the church fathers, invested the head of the Christian Church with the power to forgive sins, the "clavis ordinis," "the key-power of the Church."

1 Matthew 23:2-3

In Chapter 18, we see a specific application of this authority or power to bind and loose, in the form of excommunicatory power of the Apostles in unisonon:

Matthew 18:15-18 (NASB) (bold/notes mine)

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 “Truly I say to you, whatever you [pl.] bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Specifically citing their power to 'bind and loose' as the foundation for their (the Church) being able to excommunicate (imagine every other person on both sides of a heresy or debate in the Church claiming the authentic, divine authority required to excommunicate—the power would be utterly meaningless and without effect or divine backing, contrary to what is clearly said here).


Matthew 18 is one of the most misunderstood chapters on the NT. This has nothing to do with church government and trying to get someone to repent. The purpose of the text is the reconciliation of two people in a dispute. The emphasis in Matthew 18:15-20 is "hearing" one another and resolving the conflict. Remember, the offended party could be also in the wrong.

In verse 15, Jesus says that if you are offended, to go to the offending brother and tell him the problem. If he doesn't "HEAR" you (do not read "repent" for the offender may be in the right) then go get 2-3 witnesses. Please note verse 16: "in the mouth of 2-3 witnesses shall every word be established".

In verse 17, Jesus continues the reconciliation process by saying if he neglect to "hear" them, then go to the church.

Now here is the verse that causes tremendous confusion. Jesus says that if he fails to "hear" the church, then let that person be to you as a heathen and a publican. Most people then say we're supposed to throw the person out of the congregation because the person failed to repent. That is NOT what Jesus means here.

Since there is no resolution to the conflict and we don't know who is right and who is wrong, then the end effect is that the BOND between them is dissolved. The effect would be that since you cannot reconcile your differences, your relationship with the disputing person is now like a heathen; the effect is AS IF they were an unbeliever. In that case the believer is not bound (1 Cor 7:15) as we are called to peace.

Continuing in verse 18, whatever the counselors (the 2-3 witnesses and/or the church folks) rule as the solution, then heaven will abide by their decision. So if the counselors rule that the people should separate, then they should separate, if they should continue to be bound by their original relationship, then then heaven will still consider them bound.

Please notice verse 19-20 for they reinforce the 2-3 witnesses that have been a part of the counseling and reconciliation process. Heaven will abide by the finding of the counselors.

  • The immediate context fully supports my response. Starting in verse 23, in the parable on the unforgiving servant, Jesus says that the master “looses”(v23 – KJV) the servant from the debt even though the servant is “unrepentant”, self deluded and self righteous; the master had compassion on the unrepentant servant. It would make absolutely no sense for Jesus to teach about church discipline and casting out a person for being “unrepentant” in verses 15-20 and then tell a story that contradicts that teaching. Also, you must tie Matthew 18 to Luke 17. Both chapters teach on forgiveness.
    – alb
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 23:27
  • In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus says that you should forgive your brother if he comes to you 7 times in a day and asks forgiveness. The disciples then ask Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus then tells the parable of the servant who works all day and then has to come in and prepare the master’s meal before he can eat. Jesus says that the master does not thank the servant because he was “expected” to do his job. Application: “basic” faith forgives when someone asks. Great faith forgives when someone does not ask and is unrepentant, hence the teaching of Matthew 18.
    – alb
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 23:27
  • Let me clarify that last comment: Application: “basic” faith forgives when someone asks (ie, what we are "expected" to do). Great faith forgives when someone does not ask and is unrepentant, hence the teaching of Matthew 18
    – alb
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 0:01

The whatever here is sins. This is clearer in a related passage from John (20:23):

"If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained."

Matthew 18:18 concludes the instruction regarding the brother who sins (v.15-17):

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Theophylact comments on v.18:

If you, He says, who have been wronged deem the wrongdoer a publican and a Gentile, he shall be so in heaven as well. And if you loose, that is forgive him, he shall be forgiven in heaven as well. For it is not only what the priests loose that is loosed, but also whatever we who have been wronged bind or loose, those things too shall be either bound or loosed.*

Disciples (μαθηταὶ - mathētai) is sometimes used interchangeably with Apostles (ἀπόστολοι - apostoloi) in the Gospels. On some occasions it refers to disciples other than and/or including the Apostles; the Greek word mathētḗs essentially means "student". On this particular occasion, though, Jesus is speaking specifically to the twelve, as seen in the parallel passage in Mark (9:35).

* Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (tr. from the Greek; Chrysostom Press, 1992), p.157


Both! They are both aimed for the same end. Redemption. Of first import as always is context context context.

Matthew 18:15-20

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

The binding and loosing is speaking of fellowship with the church, and if the church has no more fellowship with someone on these grounds they are also out of fellowship with God and without his protection. An example of this can be found in 1st Corinthians.

1Cor 5:5  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (Read the whole chapter for the complete context if you do not already know it.)

The intention is to bring the individual to a place of repentance. If that can be done first by confrontation of their sin then all the better. If they do not repent however they should be turned over to Satan as it was said. That is, Loosed or Bound.

  • I guess I'm not understanding how being loosed or bound relates to fellowship in the church. I particularly don't think 1 Cor 5:5 relates to Jesus statement - that seems very eisegetical. I don't think Jesus had this passage in mind when he said that considering it hadn't been written yet... Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 2:34
  • The specific passage may not have been there but a similar situation has certainly existed throughout time. Look at the context the whole thing is talking about forgiveness. Forgive or don't. Those choices will bind or release someone from your life. This passage is essentially a foundation for excommunication in some traditions. While personally I don't think it's permanent it's a very similar concept, and one that was understood quite early. I shouldn't have implied the binding and loosing was solely fellowship with the church but it is certainly connected with that. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:20
  • I understand what you are saying, I just don't understand how you came to that conclusion. Like, why isn't it sin which is being loosed and bound or your place in eternity, etc. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:30
  • 1
    context, context, context. I see what you're saying with some of the answer's clarity, I wrote it quickly since the question seemed to be on a path downhill, and I hoped a quick answer would help others see what he was asking, apparently not. The edit was a completely new question re-interpreted from your view of the original which I think was grossly negligent. I'll try to work on a better answer to show the work better and not be so declarative or arbitrary. That might not happen for a week or so though I'm heading out of town for a couple weeks and don't have my resources with me. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 17:38

For "bound ... loose", gr. δεῖν καὶ λύειν there is a concrete meaning, like in Luke 19:30. And a metaphorical meaning (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:27, 39). Or a very interesting one in Luke 13:16. This one, Luke 13:16, makes me think the issue is a bit more complicated than we think.

Matthew 18:18 is obviously about reconciliation of two people in a dispute, in which case "bound ... loose" is mainly about taking responsibility for a mistake and about forgiveness.

Now for Matthew 18:18, the context is so very important. There is important to bare in mind the fact that the main character who is speaking is Jesus, yet the one who is writing is someone else. Jesus is giving a talk most probably in Aramaic, to a mainly Jewish audience; Matthew is writing a text probably in Greek, addressed to a much broader audience. Are Jesus and Matthew completely disregarding the Jewish Law? Difficult to say. Are they so original as we might like them to be? Who can tell? There are so many instances when Jesus is speaking like a Rabbi, or when is quoting almost directly stuff from the mosaic law or from the rabbinical writings.

If we address this issue in that context, we discover that there is a discussion among the Jewish scholars of the time over the aram. אֲסַר and שְׁרָא, which in hellenistic milieus went as gr. δεῖν καὶ λύειν [Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A., Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007, p. 56].

So the entire passage can be read as a procedure for dealing with unresolved grievance. But is it completely independent of the OT practice of cutting a person off from Israel’s assembly (e.g. Gen. 17:14; Ex. 12:15, 19; 30:33, 38)? Is it completely independent of the issues discussed in those days? Most likely not. Matthew 18:18 is based on the OT practice and is a sort of response to an issue that preoccupied people during those days.

Jesus is talking here to a group of Jewish people gathered there to listen to a preacher (Rabbi) perhaps in the hope to find out some answers for their questions. In which case Matthew 18:18 is aimed to a personal level, yet based on the OT practice, which goes beyond personal relationships. Therefore we can't rule out the social implication (i.e. congregation of some sort, church, church government) and even less a theological one. This even if from a historical point of view, it is obviously to early to talk about a church government or about any sort of a church generally speaking.

The statement is plainly about something done on earth, with implications in heaven. The two things (earth - heaven) are of course not to be understood literally and are very open to interpretation. So yes, we can talk about things like sin, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation.



Generally speaking. If you have attracted a bad habit in your life, you can by your words bind that bad habit. The spirits that are leading you astray in that area will then leave you alone. Likewise if you have reached a plateau in the development of a positive habit you can by your words loose that habit, by attracting help from more powerful good angels. These angels sees what is blocking progress and will start working on facilitating the remedy. Thus, by your verbal intentions here on earth you bind the bad spirits, and in a similar manner you loose the good ones.

To bind other people is a little bit hypocritical, because the scripture clearly states that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against spirits, powers, and principalities in the heavenly realms.

Eph 6:12 (NIV) "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.