What did the word ‘keys’ depict or symbolise, and what kind of binding and loosing was Jesus talking about?
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In Catholic dogmas, Matthew 16:18 is said to refer to the Catholic Church. “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. And then, verse 19 has been said to refer to the pontiff and his “right” to “bind and loose” here on Earth, as a claimed “successor” of the apostle Simon Peter, who supposedly had “primacy”. The position of the pontiff or “pope” is said to be based, not only on the “power of the keys” (Latin potestas clavium) but also on his claimed “office as the rock on which the Church is founded”. Later, many non-Catholic preachers and churches have copied those old Catholic dogmas regarding Matthew 16:18-19, and modified them, and applied the modified doctrines to themselves and their own church.
But, was Jesus talking about churches and “popes” and their decisions and “primacies”?
Indeed, many wonder, “What does Matthew 16:19 mean?” This has to do with the expressions “keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” and “bind” and “loose”. What did the word “keys” depict or symbolise, and what kind of binding and loosing was Jesus talking about? This article takes a closer look at that matter. Even the nature of the immortal assembly which is mentioned in the preceding verse, Matthew 16:18, will be considered here.
A note: If you have been subjected to dogmas which claim that all things in some particular bible-version are correct and “without error”, read first the article hs03.htm and come after this back here. Also, you might want to read the article gg06.htm which explains the origin and actual meaning of the word “church”.
The story really begins in verse 13. The subject was neither a “church” nor the apostle Simon Peter. The subject was Jesus himself, the question being, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” and also, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 They said, “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and 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 Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 I also tell you that you are Peter, x and on this rock y I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades z will not prevail against it. 19 I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”
x 16:18 Peter’s name, Petros in Greek, is the word for a specific rock or stone.
y 16:18 Greek, petra, a rock mass or bedrock.
z 16:18 or, Hell
(WEB, original footnotes)
(Verse 19, “release” and “released” – some translations have “loose” and “loosed”.)
Keep in mind that the subject was neither Simon Peter nor some “church”. The subject was Jesus himself. Verse 13, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They answered him, verse 14. Jesus asked them a new question, “But who do you say that I am?” (verse 15). This time, it happened to be Simon Peter who gave the answer – “you are the Anointed, the son of the living God”. And so, Jesus directed his comments especially at Simon. But of course, the other apostles were not “sorted out as second rate” just because it happened to be Simon Peter who gave the answer to Jesus’ question. Again, the subject was Jesus himself, and Jesus was also the Rock of the foundation. (Verse 18, Rock, in the Greek text Petra.) In that analogy, the apostles were only stones which were then laid on the foundation which consisted of Jesus the Petra, Rock. – See even notes x and y under the scripture-quote above, and this passage:
1 Corinthians 3:11 For no one can lay any other foundation than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ. (WEB)
So, the apostle Simon the son of Jona, also called Kêphas and Petros (Aramaic and Greek for “stone”), was not the foundation; Jesus the Petra or Rock was.
Regarding the authority which Jesus said Simon would be given – other New Testament passages show that even the other the apostles were to receive the same kind of authority as he. (See for instance Matthew 19:27-28, Luke 22:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Revelation 3:21.) But, what kind of assembly (Greek ekklêsia) was Jesus talking about, and exactly what kind of authority did the expression “keys” refer to?
Linguistic background: In the ancient Greek culture, the ekklêsia was an assembly with power over public affairs – an assembly to which citizens in a town were regularly summoned, to make decisions regarding various matters in the town.
Please note that it was “keys of the Kingdom”, and not “keys to the Kingdom”. In other words: Jesus was speaking about the authority which his disciples were to receive, in the Reign or Kingdom of God.
More, regarding the occasion recorded in Matthew 16: Please note that Jesus was not talking about churches or preachers, or about anyone in the twenty-first century. He was talking to and regarding his personal disciples who lived here on Earth in the first century.
Matthew 16:18 – when Jesus said that the “gates of hades” (that is, death) would not have power against the ekklêsia (assembly) which he would form, this did not refer to the Catholic Church or its offshoots. The reason why the “gates of hades” (death) a could not win over the assembly which Jesus said he would form, is simply that it was to consist of immortals. a Among them, Jesus’ apostles, after their resurrection (or change).
In short: The assembly that Jesus said he would form (Matthew 16:18) and to which even Simon Peter was to belong, was not a “church”. Jesus was talking about an assembly with immortal members who would have “the keys of the Reign of the Heavens”, verse 19 – that is, the authority to act on behalf of that Reign, administering things in God’s Kingdom.
a The meaning of the phrase “gates of hades” in Matthew 16:18 is clarified for instance by the apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the saints in Corinth. That letter mentions hades and immortality and the saints inheriting a kingdom. (Saints: Those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.) We read:
1 Corinthians 15:50 Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood can’t inherit the Kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. […] 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?” (WEB, highlighting added)
Verse 55: “Hades”, in the Greek text hades = the grave. “O grave, where is thy victory”, just as some bible-versions have it. The same in Matthew 16:18, “the gates of the hades [the grave] shall not prevail”. Background: In New Testament times, Jewish graves were often tombs with heavy gates or doors. For an example of this in the NT, see Luke 24:2, Matthew 27:56-60 and 28:2, regarding the door of the grave or tomb where Jesus was put after his death (but which then could not hold him or “prevail against him”, because he was raised up to new life).
In the Greek text of Matthew 16:19, we find the phrase hê basileia tôn ouranôn whose literal meaning is “the Reign of the Heavens”.
There is much confusion in regard to what and where the Reign of the Heavens, or the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God, really is. Some have claimed that it is merely “something in men’s hearts”. Some others want people to believe that the Reign of God equals to “church government”. Some even say that God’s Kingdom does not exist yet but will only come into existence at some later time. – So, really what, when and where is it?
The Reign or Kingdom of the Heavens, also called the Reign or Kingdom of God, exists and has existed for a longer time than we mortals can even understand. It is an awesome Reign which, we have all reason to believe, runs and rules this whole universe. It is important to understand that God’s Reign is based in Heaven, and has its Headquarters there. It is not located here on Earth. (As things are now, the Earth is not even a part of God’s Reign, because this planet is still in the hands of rebel spirits. It is only when Jesus comes again and captures those rebels, that the Earth can become a part of God’s great Reign.)
The Scriptures do not tell us the exact nature of the positions the apostles were to have in the administration of God’s Reign, but, for instance Matthew 16:19 and Luke 22:29 show that at least, they were to act as judges, on behalf of that Reign. – Not during their mortal lives, of course, but after they had become immortals. – Let us consider this passage:
Luke 22:29 And just as my Father gave me power, I give you power, b 30 so that you may drink and eat at my table, and may sit on seats, c judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (BPT)
b “Power” – the Greek text has basileia which could refer to such things as “royal power”, “rulership”, “kingdom”, “reign”. It is of course God’s Reign, but the disciples whom Jesus spoke to (Matthew 16 and Luke 22), were to represent that Reign, acting as judges on its behalf. Again, not during their mortal lives, but only after they had become immortals.
c “Seats” – many bible-versions have “thrones” in this verse, but the word in the Greek text, thronos, simply meant “a seat”, for instance of the kind that judges have.
(The article ho01.htm has more on the Reign of Heaven, the Reign of God, which some call “the kingdom of Heaven” or “the kingdom of God”. The article ia01.htm has some notes on Matthew 16:18. The article ho10.htm considers Matthew 6:31-33 and Luke 12:31-32 and the phrase “seek you first the Kingdom of God” and what those words really meant.)
It appears that some people have thought the “keys of the Kingdom” which that verse mentions, to be “keys to the Kingdom” – some kind of “keys” or methods by the help of which one could get to Heaven. But, in Matthew 16:19 the phrase “keys of the Kingdom” – literally, “the keys of the Reign of the Heavens” – meant that the apostles were to be appointed in God’s Reign as judges, and perhaps also as administrators. (“The keys of the kingdom” is an old expression which refers to a position in the government or administration of the kingdom in question.)
The Greek noun for “keys” in that verse is kleis. Here is how Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon defines that word:
1) a key
a) since the keeper of the keys has the power to open and to shut
b) metaph. in the NT to denote power and authority of various kinds
In short, regarding Matthew 16:19 – Jesus was not saying that Simon Peter was to act as some kind of “guard at the door to Heaven” or “keeper of Heaven’s gate”. The meaning is that disciples whom he was talking to (not only Simon but even the others), after they had become immortals, were to assist Jesus, managing some matters in God’s Reign, at least as judges but possibly even in some other way.
Matthew 18:15-18 records certain instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, in regard to how they were to settle their eventual internal disputes. Even in that connection, the terms “bind” and “loose” were used.
But, when it comes to Matthew 16:18-19 and the below-quoted passages, it is clear that the “binding and loosing” (judging) was something the apostles (and even other saints) were to do after they had become immortals.
Matthew 19:27 Then answered Peter and said to him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed you; what shall we have therefore? 28 And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That you which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, you also shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (AKJV)
Luke 22:29 And I appoint to you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed to me; 30 That you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (AKJV)
1 Corinthians 6:2 Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? […] 3 Know you not that we shall judge angels? […] (AKJV)
Revelation 3:21 To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (AKJV)
In the Greek text of Matthew 16:19, the words for “bind” and “loose” are dedemenon and lelumenon (forms of the verbs deô and luô), but there is no need to go into any finer linguistic details; the matter is quite clear even without that.
Again, the binding and loosing which Matthew 16:19 and some other passages refer to, was to be in the hands of the immortal assembly which Jesus said he would form (verse 18). It was when the apostles became immortals, that they were to act as judges, on behalf of the Reign of God. Their decisions (judgments) were then to be counted as “bound in Heaven”.
Regarding the matter of “spiritual authority” among mortals – the question, “Who can speak for God?” – see the article gs06.htm.
The article ia01.htm takes a closer look at verse 18 in Matthew 16. The article gg06.htm explains the origin and actual meaning of the word “church”.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/flist.htm
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → gs09.htm
On the King James translation, the “authorised version”. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → hs03.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → ho01.htm
Matthew 16:18, the translation “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. What was Jesus talking about? What is the immortal ekklêsia or assembly which he said he would form? Is it an earthly religious organisation – a church – or, is it an assembly which has as its members the saints who have become immortals? → ia01.htm
Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”. What did Jesus mean? How were the disciples to go about “seeking the Kingdom”? → ho10.htm
Is Jesus a “capstone on top of a pyramid”, as some say, or is he the main corner-stone of the foundation of God’s spiritual dwelling, as the Bible says? → ha05.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → gg06.htm
What happened to the saints, in the first century? Also, some notes on the “early church”. → hg04.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there, and if so, for how long? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → gh04.htm
What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority on the human level? Who can speak for God? → gs06.htm
Power among Jesus’ disciples. What powers were given to the apostles, and to the saints in general? Also: Did the apostle Peter receive some special powers? → ha09.htm
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