According to Matt. 18:18, the Lord Jesus Christ gave the apostles the authority to bind and loose, that is, to prohibit and permit.

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. (KJV, 1769)

According to Evangelicals,

  1. Did this authority to bind and loose cease with the apostles?
  2. If not, who among the Church now has the authority to bind and loose?
  3. What is the criteria to effectively bind or loose?

Not a Duplicate

This question is not a duplicate of this question which requests the Protestant interpretation of Matt. 16:13-20. Matt. 16:13-20 focuses on the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostle Peter and is used by Roman Catholics as a basis for Petrine primacy. My question is requesting the Evangelical interpretation of Matt. 18:18 wherein the Lord Jesus Christ grants all the apostles the ability to bind and loose. Two different verses, two different contexts, two different perspectives. Furthermore, in no way does the "best answer" to the other question provide an answer to this question.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of How do Protestants interpret Matthew 16:13–20?
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 28, 2015 at 0:21
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    @curiousdannii: This thread asks for an Evangelical interpretation of Matt. 18:18; that thread asks for the Protestant interpretation of Matt. 16:13-20. Would you please explain how you came to the conclusion that they are duplicates?
    – user900
    Dec 28, 2015 at 0:36
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    There isn't a uniformity of belief amongst Evangelicals on this issue. It would be hard to prove, but I believe (contradictory to Brian's answer) that a majority believe that each individual believer now possesses this authority. Dec 28, 2015 at 0:45
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    There are certainly commentaries by Evangelicals, but there aren't really any that have attained such an authoritative status that they could be presumed to fairly represent an "official" Evangelical view. The most influential commentary for Evangelicals is probably Matthew Henry's - even though he published it before the rise of Evangelicalism, it was later endorsed by such leading Evangelicals as Wesley, Whitefield and Spurgeon. Dec 28, 2015 at 2:48
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    Since both questions are explicitly about binding and loosing, I don't see any reason not to consider them duplicates. Dec 28, 2015 at 5:31

3 Answers 3


Evangelical Protestants are divided on this question and have been since the Protestant Reformation began nearly 500 years ago.

Martin Luther taught that this was a reference “The Office of the Keys”. Luther’s interpretation may be helpful since Lutheranism makes up a healthy portion of contemporary “Evangelicals”. Those of a Baptist and Calvinist persuasion within the Evangelical movement will have different perspectives.

Luther’s Small Catechism teaches:

What is the Office of the Keys? The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. Where is this written? This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:22–23) 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. *This question may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflects his teaching and was included in editions of the catechism during his lifetime.

Lutherans believe that Matthew 18:18 teaches this “Office of the Keys”. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (a defense of Lutheran doctrine) teaches the following specifically in reference to Matthew 18:18:

[Jesus] means sin being forgiven, eternal death taken away, and eternal life bestowed. “Whatever you bind” does not speak of requiring punishments, but of retaining the sins of those who are not converted.

Many Evangelical Lutheran believe this today.


You may possibly misreading the Scriptures. As I read the whole of chapter 18, I come away with a much different impression. Did Jesus give the authority only to the Apostles?

Matthew 18:16 and 17 KJV But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Jesus to my mind gave that authority to the Church (all believers as a group). And his reason for doing so appears to be:

Matthew 18:20 KJV For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

This authority appears to be a shared authority there am I in the midst of them presumably any decision made by the group would be influenced by Jesus who is in their midst. And if we consider both verses 18 and 19 together

Matthew 18:18 KJV 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. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

it appears that those decisions have eternal consequences since it is God himself taking the action.

For those and many other reasons we as members of the Church (not Denominations) must be very careful in our agreed stances since as little as two of us can have eternal effects on another.

This interpretation of these Scriptures is also shared by Peter Guzik.

Relating to one another in the Kingdom Community. 1. (15) If you are sinned against, go and confront the guilty party directly. "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother." a. Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: It is essential that we go to the offending brother first - not griping and gossiping to others, especially under the guise of "sharing a prayer request" or "seeking counsel." Instead, speak to the party directly. i. It would be wrong for anyone to take Jesus' word here as a command to confront your brother with every sin they commit against you. The Bible says we should b. If he hears you, you have gained your brother: You have gained him in two ways. First, the problem has been cleared up. Perhaps you realized that he was right in some ways and he realized you were right in some ways, but the problem is resolved. Second, you have gained him because you have not wronged your brother by going to others with gossip and half the side of a dispute. 2. (16-18) If one among the church is adamantly unrepentant, they are to be removed from fellowship. "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." a. If he will not hear, take with you one or two more: The circle of people in the situation only becomes wider as the offending party refuses to listen. If the stubborn, unrepentant attitude remains they are to be refused fellowship (let him be to you like a heathen). i. This sense of being refused full standing and participation in the body of Christ is what Paul meant when he said to deliver such a one to Satan (1Co. 5:1-8). There is a sense in which the unrepentant one is chastened by their being placed outside of the "protection" of fellowship. b. Like a heathen and a tax collector: Even so, the unrepentant one must be treated just as we should treat a heathen and a tax collector - with great love, with the goal of bringing about a full repentance and reconciliation. c. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven: If this process is done humbly and according to the Word, this is quite binding in the eyes of God, even if the unrepentant ones just go to another church. 3. (19-20) The power and blessing in fellowship that is denied the unrepentant. "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." a. If two of you agree on earth: There is real power in agreement in prayer and in the presence of Jesus. This is exactly what the unrepentant ones miss out on. i. In the ancient Greek, agree is literally "to symphonize." Jesus wants us to complement each other like a great orchestra. b. It will be done for them by My Father in heaven: We must take advantage of the power of agreement, which works on the principle related in Deu. 32:30, where one sets a thousand enemies to flight, but two set ten thousand enemies to flight. There is real power the prayer of agreement. c. Where two or three are gathered together in My name: Gathering in the name of Jesus means gathering according to His character and will, and gathering in a manner Jesus would endorse. This is when Jesus is really present (I am there in the midst of them).

Certainly many will look at my answer with a jaundiced eye, but after much study of the Bible this is more in keeping with my impressions of Jesus and his administration of his Church. It seems to me that Jesus would not want this authority to pass away with the Apostles and that seems to be the underlying reason for the Catholic Church having Papal descended. Whether the Catholic Church or my interpretation is correct that authority did not pass away, and depending upon which is correct the answer to who has that authority today appears to be either the Pope or the Church, or maybe both.

Has my answer left you in a more confused state than before?

Hope this helps.


According to Evangelicals, who now has the authority to bind and loose (per Matt. 18:18)?

Matthew 18:18 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. - KJV

Matthew 18:18 `Verily I say to you, Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens. - YLT

Matthew 18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you forbid and declare to be improper and unlawful on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit and declare proper and lawful on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven. - Amp

In the KJV it sounds like the apostles are being given a new and special power. However, better translations pick up on the grammar which indicates that the apostles are not being given a special power or authority, but rather a special responsibility not to exceed what has already been established.

We can see an example of the exercise of this authority by James when the Apostles were considering what to do about the gentiles that were becoming believers;

Acts 15:19-20 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

Here the requirements were placed (bound) on the gentiles similar to the restrictions placed on the gentile sojourners in Israel in Leviticus.

I see this like the supernatural gifts of the Spirit as consistent with the expected immanent Kingdom. Jesus told the disciples they would have leadership positions in the Kingdom and told them a little of what would be expected.

Luke 22:30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Mark 16:15-18 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Some may consider that the “power” to bind and loose has been transferred to the church. However, I think a case can be made that it is reserved for a restored and faithful remnant of Israel that eventually will receive her King.

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