In Catholicism, we believe that the Bishops in Communion with the Pope (as Vicar of Christ) have authority over Church doctrine. The authority comes straight from the mouth of our Savior.

Matthew 18:18 (NAB)
18 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

So, for non-Catholics and for other Christians who stake their claim to apostolic succession yet hold that the Bible is the only authority, can anything really be bound or loosed by the apostles or their successors? What does this passage mean outside of my interpretation?

3 Answers 3


Well, Lutherans hold this to be the basis of what is called "The Office of the Keys".

Also referred to in John 20:22-23:

22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

From Luther's Small Catechism:

What do you believe according to these words?

I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.

  • Are there ministers who absolve or excommunicate people in any Lutheran Church? All I can think of is the elders in "How Green was My Valley" getting rid of the good young preacher.
    – Peter Turner
    Aug 24, 2011 at 21:24
  • @Peter I've never read/saw "How Green was My Valley", but yes, Lutheran Pastors absolve the repentant every Sunday. I'm not sure there are any that excommunicate though, but the openly unrepentant are not allowed communion.
    – John
    Aug 24, 2011 at 21:32
  • Given that Luther himself was excommunicated, I'm not sure how he would sit with the idea of excommunication. Aug 24, 2011 at 23:10

In some circles, binding is understood as restricting the activity of demonic powers and loosing is to do with releasing people from the influence of negative spiritual powers.

Binding is is contrasted with deliverance, which is a more permanent release of a person from a demons power. Where deliverance requires the full cooperation of the demon-influenced individual, binding can be undertaken without their agreement. Binding is typically performed by simmply commanding the demon to be bound, whereas deliverance may require laying on of hands and extended perods of prayed and fasting. The result of deiverance is more pronounced - the person from whom the the demon is "cast out" will expeience complete freedom in the area from which the demon was active. In contrast, binding will result in temporary relief from the effects of demonic influence.

Loosing may refer to the the practice of releasing someone from sickness, poverty etc. One basis for this belief is Luke 13:12 (KJV), where Jesus speaks to the woman with the issue of blood, "He said unto her, 'Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.'".


I don't understand how that verse is related to Church doctrine or decisions by a limited group of leaders such as the Bishops.

The preceeding context Mat 18:15-17 is about dealing with the alleged sin of one believer against another. The one who has been wronged is to first approach the offending brother. If he is unresponsive, then the one who has been wronged is to take one or two others who agree that wrong has been done and try again. If he is still unresponsive, then the whole church (local congregation) is to be involved bringing their collective wisdom and discernment to bear on the allegation.

Verse 18 then sounds almost like it is saying that what the church decides, God will agree with. However, I interpret it to mean that by increasing the number of believers involved, God's perception of the matter and His will regarding the matter will be correctly understood.

  • ..what the church decides, God will agree with. However, I interpret it to mean that by increasing the number of believers involved.. is what I interpret it to mean. I might be wrong about it, I'm just a joe shchmo Catholic. But I thought it was part of the basis for Apostolic Succession as well as the institution of the sacrament of Reconciliation.
    – Peter Turner
    Aug 24, 2011 at 21:19

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