Binding and Loosing Matt. 18:18 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
There are three verses in the New Testament on binding and loosing or remitting and retaining. These verses have been misinterpreted by the Catholic Church to “prove” that their traditions are of equal authority with the words of God and that their priests have the power to absolve sins in the confessional. These verses are Matt 16:19, Matt 18:18 and Jn 20:23.
We will look at the context and the content of these three verses to show that the Catholic Church has interpreted these verses in error. Their motive is obvious. They wanted a power that was not granted to them so that they could subvert the gospel and create their own religion, all the while pretending that it was given to them by Jesus.
It is important to say, at the beginning of this lesson, that these verses are not about binding the devil or about the Catholic confessional or about the authority of Popes. These verses are about the ability given to the disciples and Christians to establish rules, forgive iniquity, and make binding agreements that God honors.
Matt 16:19. The context is Matt 16:16-18. This rock is Jesus [Matt 16:16, 1 Pet 2:6-8]. My church is Jesus’ body, over which he is the head [Eph 1:22, Col 1:18]. The keys to the kingdom of heaven have nothing to do with Jesus’ body, the church, nor with the kingdom of God, which is within us when we are saved [Lk 17:21]. The kingdom of heaven deals with the earthly kingdom over which Jesus will rule when he returns. Thus, these instructions to Peter apply to Matt 19:28, during the millennial reign of Jesus.
Matt 18:18. The context is Matt 18:15-17. This passage does have something to do with the church. It relates to a brother who has a trespass against another brother. The classic example of something bound and then loosed [Matt 18:18] is the young man who was fornicating with his father’s wife in 1 Cor 5:1-5. The church put him out in 1 Cor 5:7-13. The agreement of the church was binding on him and honored by the Lord.
Other examples of the church deciding certain things on earth that were honored in heaven are Gal 2:1-9; Acts 15:1-20; Acts 1:15-26, which we will see. These didn’t have to do with trespasses among brethren, but they did have to do with binding agreements.
Jn 20:23. The context is Jn 20:22, where the Lord breathed on the disciples and they received the Holy Ghost [this is not yet the baptism of the Holy Ghost, see Acts 1:2 and Acts 1:5]. The remitting of sin is seen in Acts 2:38, for instance. The retaining of sin is seen in Acts 8:20-23, for instance. Truly, any believer can say to the saved, “your sins are remitted.” And he can say to the lost, “your sins are retained.” This verse has nothing to do with a Catholic priest absolving sin.
In Acts 15, the Jews held a council to determine what requirements, if any, should be laid upon the Gentile converts. The question came up whether they should be circumcised and whether they had to be under the law to be saved (Acts 15:1, 5). After deliberations, the council decided to only require the Gentiles to observe four things (Acts 15:20). This was “bound” by the council and, therefore, “bound” in heaven.
In Gal. 2:1- 9, Paul conferred with James, Cephas and John because there was a group that was trying to bring Paul and some of his preachers into bondage. After these men saw that the gospel to the Gentiles was committed to Paul, they shook hands and agreed that Paul and his men should go to the Gentiles; and James, Cephas, John, and their men should go to the Jews. This was a God-honored, binding agreement to protect “our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 2:4).
In 1 Cor. 5:1-5, Paul urged the Corinthians to kick a fornicator out of their congregation. They would not forgive his sin. The congregation turned him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. However, during his punishment from the church (2 Cor. 2:6), he got right with the Lord and Paul and the church forgave him (2 Cor. 2:7-10). Thus, his sin was remitted. The church did the right thing and God honored it [2 Cor 7:11-12].
The basis for our authority to forgive anyone is the forgiveness that God gave us for the sake of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:30-32, Lk. 17:3-4). Christians don’t need a priest in a confessional to forgive sins since we are all “priests” once we are saved (1 Pet. 2:9).
When we preach the gospel to sinners, we have the privilege of telling them that all their sins will be forgiven once they trust Christ. Like Acts 13:38 says, “… through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:14 adds, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.”
A sinner without Christ, on the other hand, cannot be forgiven by God, no matter who on earth forgives him. A priest cannot remit or absolve sin. Only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:5-7). And He will only forgive your sins when you “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Like Jesus said in John 8:24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”