Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.Mat 18:18
Have you ever heard that translation of Matthew 18:18? It is from the Complete Jewish Bible. The same words are used in Matthew 16:19.
While the first mention is directed towards Peter, this time it is for all disciples.
The words are usually translated binding and loosing and we certainly associate a shackles, ropes and cages with it.
But that could not be further from the associations the people that first heard this had.
Binding and loosing was a legal term, and in a society that had their bible – the torah – as their legal body, refined by the prophets and the historical accounts, that meant: you interpret the bible and what you interpret becomes law, both binding on earth and in heaven.
We see a wonderful example in Acts 15, where we do not read that the apostles came together and fasted and prayed about whether the heathen Christians had to be circumcized. They talked it through. And at the end they said: it seems to please the Holy Spirit and us.
They decided that circumcision was not necessary any longer in the new covenant. And the Spirit honoured that decision. We can only guess whether the Spirit would have intervened if they had decided otherwise.
We think that this obviously was only for the apostles prior to the canon of new testament scripture. But we do this all the time.
Whenever we interpret the scripture – like in preaching or teaching – we bind and loose.
If we tell somebody that it is OK to eat meat sacrificed to other God’s, we loose. If we tell them that it is not OK to see R rated movies, we bind. God will judge people based on what they have been taught, not based on absolute truth.
Because their is no absolute truth on earth. There is absolute truth, and it is called Jesus. But reading his teachings, we only see them through our lenses, worldview, past hurts and experiences, and imprint. Thus, absolute truth becomes subjective.
We also teach from our subjective interpretation of truth, and the recipient interprets again.
There is no way around this. Even if we exclude sin from the picture. God made us as individuals, and that includes the above.
Thus, he has a plan that takes into account that we cannot and will never understand absolute truth, and that we will always differ in our interpretation even within local churches that have been taught the same for ages.
The only possibility to be a righteous judge in all this is binding and loosing. God honours the understanding we have and the consciousness level we bring to the table when dealing with us.
Therefore, we can bind and loose. We can interpret the scriptures and they become binding or loosing for ourselves and the people we have authority with teaching or preaching.
Of course we have to stay open for correction by the Spirit and trust him to correct us if we go astray. I trust God that he has ways to deal with me and guide me in all my authority to interpret scripture and all the responsibility that brings.
As I said, we all do this. We all interpret, bind and loose. Let’s do it consciously, because then we are more aware of the responsibility we have and the necessity of being open to correction.
There is another possible strategy, and it’s the one most people use today. They outsource binding and loosing to other people. Usually their pastor. And the pastor outsources to trusted sources that have gone before (not understanding that they subjectively interpret their interpretations). The danger here: we prevent growth.
God tells us that we go from glory to glory. He is dealing with us in a process. And as much as we might deny this, the gospel has changed over the centuries. Even at its core, like the interpretation of the cross.
Denying this, we take our pet interpretation of the past and declare it to be absolute truth. And we bind people. No loosing taking place here. We bind people to not grow, and take away their God given right and authority to bind and loose. And we deny it for ourselves first.
We also redefine binding and loosing to mean forgiving sin and setting people free.
Let’s find a responsible way to bind and loose again in its Jewish connotation, in dependence to each other, and most of all, the Spirit.