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The last part of Matthew 16:18 is often translated as “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. In Catholic dogmas, that verse is said to refer to the Catholic Church. And then, verse 19 is said to refer to the pontiff and his “right” to “bind and loose” here on Earth, as a “successor” to the apostle Simon Peter who is said to have had “primacy”. The pontiff’s position is said to be based, not only on his “office as the rock on which the church is founded”, but also on the “power of the keys”, Latin potestas clavium.
Later, some non-Catholic preachers have copied those old Catholic dogmas regarding Matthew 16:18–19, and modified them and then applied the modified doctrines to themselves and their own church.
But how is it, really – was Jesus talking about churches and their leaders and their decisions and “primacies”? Indeed, many have wondered what Matthew 16:19 actually means. This has to do with the expressions “keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” and “bind” and “loose”. What kind of “keys” and “binding and loosing” was Jesus talking about? This article takes a closer look at that matter.
The story actually begins in verse 13. The subject was neither a “church” nor the apostle Simon Peter. The subject was Jesus himself. He asked his disciples, “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”.)
Verse 13: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I, the Son of man, am?” They answered him, verse 14. Jesus asked them a new question, verse 15, “But who do you say that I am?” This time, it happened to be Simon Peter who gave the answer – “you are the Messiah, the son of the living God”. And so, Jesus directed his comments at Simon. But of course, the other apostles were not sorted out as “second rate” just because it was Simon who happened to give 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 stones which were then added to the main foundation which consisted of Jesus the Petra, Rock. – See even notes x and y under the scripture-quote above, and also 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.
But yes, Matthew 16:19 shows that Simon Peter was to be given authority. And then, other New Testament passages such as Matthew 19:27–28 show that even the other the apostles were to receive the same kind of authority. They were to act as judges, when they became immortals. Judges “bind and loose”.
Now, regarding verse 18: What kind of assembly was Jesus talking about? And, regarding verse 19: Exactly what kind of authority did the expression “keys” refer to?
In the Greek text of verse 18, the word for “assembly” is the noun ekklêsia. That word indeed meant “assembly” and did not refer to “churches”. (The English word “church” is not derived from the old Greek ekklêsia but comes from a quite different source. The article rga061.htm has more on this.) – Still verse 18, “and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” – it is quite obvious that Jesus was talking about an assembly with immortal members who have “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”, verse 19, that is, the authority to act on behalf of that Kingdom, administering things in God’s Reign.
Please note that it was “keys of the Kingdom”, and not “keys to the Kingdom”. Literally, the Greek text of Matthew 16:19 translates as “the keys of the Reign of the Heavens”. – “The keys of the kingdom” is an old expression which refers to a position in the government or administration of the kingdom in question.
In the Greek text of that verse, the word for “keys” is the noun kleis. Here is how the OLB Greek 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 talking about a position as some kind of “guard at the door to Heaven”. The meaning is that the disciples whom he was talking to (not only Simon but even the others), [a] after they had become immortals, were to assist Jesus, managing some matters in God’s Reign, at least as judges. The “binding” and “loosing” which Matthew 16:19 mentions, refers to that.
a As was noted above, other New Testament passages show that even the other apostles were to receive the same kind of authority. See Matthew 19:27–28, et cetera.
More, regarding the occasion which is recorded in Matthew 16: Keep in mind that Jesus was not talking about churches or preachers or about people in the twenty-first century. He was talking to his disciples, people who lived here on Earth in the first century, regarding what they were to be doing when they had become immortals. This passage refers to that same matter:
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)
Again, that is something the apostles were to be doing, when they had become immortals. This leads us back to verse 18. Jesus said that the “gates of hades” (death) [b] would not have power against the ekklêsia (assembly) which he would form. It is obvious that this simply meant that that assembly was to consist of immortals, among them the 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, is not a “church”. It is an assembly with immortal members who 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.
b The meaning of the phrase “gates of hades” in Matthew 16:18 is clarified for instance by a passage in the apostle Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth. That passage mentions hades and immortality and inheriting a place in the Kingdom of God. 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” = the grave. For instance the AKJV renders that verse in this manner: “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
It is the same in Matthew 16:18, “the gates of hades [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 27:57–60 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 has been 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 have caused people to think that the Reign of God perhaps has to do with “church government”. Further: Some have claimed 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 returns and captures those rebels, that the Earth will become a part of God’s great Reign.)
The article roa011.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 raa011.htm has some notes on Matthew 16:18.
The article roa101.htm considers Matthew 6:31–33 and Luke 12:3 and what the phrase “seek you first the Kingdom of God” really might have meant and referred to.
Matthew 18:15–18 records certain instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples. Even in that connection, the concept “bind and loose” was mentioned, but that was concerning how the disciples were to settle their eventual internal disputes.
When it comes to Matthew 16:18–19 and the below-quoted passages, it is clear that in those cases, the judging (“binding and loosing”) was something the apostles (and even other saints) were to do after they had become immortals.
Matthew 19:27 Then Peter replying, said, As for us, we have forsaken all, and followed you; what then shall be our reward? 28 Jesus answered, Indeed, I say to you, that at the Renovation, when the Son of Man shall be seated on his glorious throne, you, my followers, sitting upon the twelve thrones, shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel. (LO)
Luke 22:28 You are they who have continued with me in my trials. 29 And I grant to you, (forasmuch as my Father has granted me a kingdom,) 30 to eat, and to drink at my table, in my kingdom, and to sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (LO)
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)
(“Throne”, Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30 and Revelation 3:21 – the Greek text has thronos. That word simply means “a seat”, such as what judges have.)
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 the finer linguistic details; the matter is quite clear even without that.
Again, the binding and loosing (judging) which Matthew 16:19 and a number of other New Testament passages refer to, was to be in the hands of the assembly of immortals which Jesus said he would form (verse 18). When the apostles had become immortals, 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 rsa061.htm.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa091.htm
On the King James translation. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa031.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga021.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → rga061.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”? → roa011.htm
Matthew 16:18, “I will build my assembly, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it”. What and where was the ekklêsia or assembly which Jesus said he would form? Was it an earthly religious organisation as some claim, or something else? → raa011.htm
What powers were given to the apostles? Also: Did Simon Peter receive some kind of special authority, such as “primacy”? → raa091.htm
Matthew 6:33, “But seek you 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”? → roa101.htm
What does the Bible say about authority? Who has biblical, spiritual or religious authority? Who can speak for God? → rsa061.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → rba041.htm
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