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Binding and Loosing


This couplet occurs in the New Testament only in Matthew, where Christ promises to peter (16.19) and to the disciples (18.18) that whatever they bind or loose on earth will also be bound or loosed in heaven. In most of the examples of the rabbinic usage given by Strack-Billerbeck (Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 1:738741), 'ăsar and š erā' mean to declare something forbidden or allowed by the Law; there are a few examples of their meaning to exclude someone from the community or to readmit him. According to J. Jeremias (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3:751), the technical meanings that the couplet had in the rabbinic schools are particular applications of the original sense, which was to pass judgment, whether of condemnation or of pardon. While Peter and the Disciples are to exercise this power "on earth," their acts will be ratified "in heaven," that is, by the divine judgment. The exegesis of this phrase has been much influenced by the immediately preceding context (Mt 18.1517), where is given the rule of fraternal correction, leading up to the excommunication of the obdurate offender. In the light of this context, v.18 has been taken to refer to the power to excommunicate or to absolve from excommunication, and hence to the power to retain or forgive sin. It is now generally agreed, however, that the connection between these verses is not original, and that from the context one can only conclude that the Evangelist, along with the community for which he wrote, saw the power to excommunicate as an application of the power to bind and loose. Most modern Catholic exegetes understand the terms in a broader sense: of the authority to pass judgments, both doctrinal and disciplinary, which are binding in conscience on the members of the Church. Vatican Council II clearly took the terms in this broad sense when, in reference to the supreme and universal power of the whole episcopate, it declared [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church 22; Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 26]: "It is certain that that office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter (Matth. 16, 19) was also granted to the college of the Apostles, joined with its head (Matth. 18, 18; 28, 1620)."

See Also: keys, power of.

Bibliography: f. bÜchsel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 2:6061. j. jeremias, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3:74953. o. michel, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser (Stuttgart 1950) 2:374380. h. thyen and j. heubach, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 5:144953. a. vÖgtle, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 2:48082. j. a. emerton, "Binding and LoosingForgiving and Retaining," Journal of Theological Studies 13 (1962) 32531. g. bornkamm, "The Authority to 'Bind' and 'Loose' in the Church in Matthew's Gospel," Perspective 11 (1970) 3750. w. g. thompson, Matthew's Advice to a Divided Community (Rome 1970) 188194. j. d. m. derrett, "Binding and Loosing," Journal of Biblical Literature 102 (1983) 112117.

[f. a. sullivan]

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