Below are two passages in the Gospel of Matthew which appear to clearly
designate authority to the succession of Saint Peter, ie the Papacy, which
leaves me to wonder what non-Catholics are to do with these verses:“And I will give you [Peter] the keys
of the kingdom of heaven, and what-
ever you bind on earth will be bound
in heaven, and whatever you loose
on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
(Matthew 16:19).

“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.”
(Matthew 18:18)
Now in rabbinical language,
to “bind” is to forbid and to
“loose” is to permit.

But what is a Protestant, for example, to do with what Jesus said in Matthew?

Did this binding and loosing deal die with Peter, along with the Keys to Heaven?

They claim that binding and loosing simply means to preach the gospel and loose people from the bonds of sin, etc.

I know…it’s a stretch.

In discussions I have had with protestants on the Mt 18:15-18 passage they have said that, since in vs 15 the reference is to sin against a brother - that the authority to bind and loose is restricted to “sin”. Also - they have said that since this passage is speaking of “Church” (Ekklesia) assembled (local community), that it is this community that binds or loose the sin spoken of in Mt 18:15.
They held the position that such authority does not extend to doctrinal matters (those are governed by Scripture alone).

My reply to the above arguments are:

  1. To ask the person if they believe preaching a “false gospel” (false doctrine) is a sin…they reply “yes”…So I submit to them that “sin” in Mt 18:15 necessarily includes doctrinal matters.
  2. The authority given by Christ is to bind or loose whatever. This is a very wide latitude.

I then ask them what happens when one “local community” differs in doctrine from another “local community”…after all - Christ himself admonishes us to “Listen to The Church” - but what if different (local) Churches teach different things on matters pertaining to salvation? That’s when the hedging generally starts…

At this point I refer them to Acts 15 - Which I refer to as a demonstration of Mt 18 in action.

I’ve had some very good conversations with protestants on this…:thumbsup:

Can’t say any have converted because of it…at least that I know of…


Many Protestants would say this power is not given to Peter alone but to the Church (they may mean church leadership in their capacity as representative of the entire church community or every single Christian depending on what kind of Protestant they are).

The meaning of this verse can be broad or narrow. Some Protestants may define it in relation to issues of church discipline.

Others may expand it into many different and interesting directions. For example, many Protestants of the more Pentecostal/charismatic varieties will pray prayers of binding demonic power, sickness, etc. and loosing people from spiritual bondage or loosing blessing or deliverance in someone’s life.

Protestants wouldn’t see this authority (however they define it or not) as belonging to Peter alone but to the “two” who “agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

But they come to these conclusions either ignoring or just unaware of the rabbinical meaning of the words “bind” and “loose”, as JRKH has pointed out. The point is that Christ himself gave this incredible authority to his Church. It is the authority to legislate and to define doctrine under the protection of the Holy Spirit. By its very nature, this authority cannot be meant to be given to varying faith traditions with conflicting views, but rather to the one Church founded by Christ.

Steve - If I may rephrase the bolded section…
I would say that by it’s very nature, such authority to bind and loose - along with the instruction to “listen to the church” - cannot(if properly applied) lead to “varying faith traditions with conflicting views”, on matters touching upon salvation.

It is only when this biblical approach - as seen in Mt 18:15-18 and Acts 15 - is ignored, set aside, reinterpreted, or outright rejected that we run into trouble.

In my experience the protestant will often times see the Catholic view on these matters to be something “forced” from the “outside”…Whereas in truth…such desire for unity should be something that every True Christian aspires to. For without this aspiration, pursued in charity, the true Christian cannot be pursuing that which NT Scripture calls for in the Church.

Make sense??


No, because the Church continues. The power to bind and loose belongs
To the Church. The Lutheran view:

Nothing in this or any other scripture, nor in the early Church provides for universal jurisdiction. In a nutshell, that is the Lutheran dispute with the papacy.


Well Jon…how, in your view, would the Church exercise this binding and loosing?

It might be easier to let the Lutheran Confessions explain our view

Further, The Small Catechism offers an example of Confession/Absolution


This isn’t that complicated.

Given that the context of these passages includes people that aren’t Peter we can naturally infer that the authority given here has nothing to do with the papacy.

In fact, the context has to do with the running of the local church and the meeting of brethren. The immediately preceding verse to Matthew 18:18 explains exactly what is meant by binding/loosing.

Matthew 18:17
"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.

I don’t know why anyone say this has nothing to do with doctrinal matters as it clearly would. The difference between Catholics and protestants or other christians would just be where you get your doctrine from. Just because many can misinterpret scripture doesn’t mean there isn’t one actual meaning. Therefore, whoever does not hold to the proper meaning is preaching falsely and therefore the church has a responsibility to handle that matter. Do they bind or loose? That would be up to the overseers based on the individual circumstances. If a brother repents then we are to forgive them, but what if they’re not repenting. What if they’re saying they’re sorry but not changing their actions? What if they outright refuse to apologize. Then the church has the authority to handle the situation.

Whatever they bind and loose on earth shall be as it is in Heaven.

These passages are absolutely speaking about church authority, but not papal authority, or the instruction would have been for Peter alone, which it was not. This is more about disciplinary authority than it is about teaching authority.

I’ll try nto to get in Jon’s way here…but feel I have something to offer here.

The Church binds and looses the same way it always has and as prescribed in the NT - through taking council, one with the other - sometimes in council - and sometimes less formally in order to resolved certain matters that disturb the peace of the body.

The papal office - with it’s particular charism, never really acts outside of this idea…that is…the pope doesn’t just wake up one morning and start issuing some new teaching.

I really think that this is something that we as Catholics need to emphasize in our discussions with protestants because many protestants seem to have the view that the Pope - the papal office - acts very differently than it actually does…(historical anomalies not withstanding)

The Lutheran dispute with the pope that Jon refers to above is much more a of a disagreement over structure than over the fundamental principle of the universal Church being able to bind and Loose “whatever.”
Of course as Catholics we see this office in the NT and we can also appreciate that the office evolved as the Church grew.

Just some thoughts.


Well said - but I don’t see how one can look at Mt 16 and say that the authority was not presented to Peter first - and personally…but to me that is actually somewhat secondary to the more important things that you are expressing above.

I love how you speak of the local church having authority to deal with doctrinal matters.
Amen brother Amen…
But I think that where we Catholics have a problem with the protestant view is where that authority ends…How many “bible Churches” are there and how many different “bible based” teachings are being preached? As you say - their is but one right understanding on the important issues - those that touch on salvation - but even in these there is conflict among the “bible churches”…
So - using Scripture as you have above - how should the Church go about resolving the matter of conflicting doctrines taught by geographically separate local communities?


IOW, James, our differences are about ecclesiology more than it about the power to bind and loose. Essentially, the Church exercises the power through its ordained clergy, who hear confession, and pronounce absolution. Typically, a Lutheran pastor/confessor will say:

“As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”


Matthew 18 is concerned with how Christians should treat sinners in their midst. If you follow the instructions, they are simple

  1. Deal with the “sinner” first yourself

If another member of the church[d] sins against you,[e] go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.[f]

  1. If this doesn’t work, bring witnesses to hear and decide the matter, like a jury system.

But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

  1. If this fails, bring the complaint to the Church

If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church

  1. If they don’t listen there, treat them like a Gentile, meaning either drop them from the community, or go to government court to seek redress.

and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

  1. Now, after giving instructions on how to deal with sinners in the Church, Jesus assures them that he will be there with them making sure the decisions are correct.

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. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Notice: The line about 2 or more agreeing or gathering is a direct reference to what precedes it, the idea that disputes between individuals can be resolved by hearing the case before Christian witnesses acting as a jury.

Nowhere in this passage is there any mention of the foundation or leadership of the Church as a whole, merely how to resolve specific disputes that are bound to arise. If Jesus had intended his Church to be lead by more than Peter, he had a chance to say so 2 chapters earlier, when as someone else brought up, all the disciples were around. Jesus didn’t do this, he singled Peter out specifically and handed him the keys to the Kingdom, no one else.

Now of course, Peter isn’t going to be around to hear every dispute between Christians, so some binding and loosing power has to be granted to subordinate bodies as well, hence Matthew 18.

Is this view consistent throughout all of the Lutheran synods?

If they are truly Lutheran and hold to the confessions, yes.


Yes - As you have shared here the Lutheran view is very similar with the Catholic one with regards to the authority of the Church to determine doctrine.
We have differences in how we believe that authority should be structured.

Essentially, the Church exercises the power through its ordained clergy, who hear confession, and pronounce absolution. Typically, a Lutheran pastor/confessor will say:

“As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”


This is an accurate example of the binding and loosing of sin in confession…but the authority given in Mt 16 and 18 is to bind and loose “whatever”…So the authority is somewhat more broad than just a matter of personal sin…and gets rapidly into matters of doctrine…such as we see addressed in Acts 15.



Jon…which part of the Smalcald are you referring to?

I am familiar with the confession et al…my question more is towards church discipline, teaching, defining doctrine…so in your lutheran view, how is the church to exercise this authority to bind and loose?

My question is this. If we consider the power to bind and loose as the power to define the deposit of faith in terms of doctrine, then how can two separate religious entities whose doctrines conflict in any way, both have a legitimate claim to that authority?

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