What does “whatever you bind on earth” mean?


By BibleAsk Team

The phrase “whatever you bind on earth” appears in the Bible, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus uses this phrase while speaking to His disciples, indicating the authority and responsibility entrusted to the church. Let’s delve into the meaning and implications of this concept in detail, referencing the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

Biblical Context

The key passages that mention “binding and loosing” are found in Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18:

Matthew 16:19 (NKJV): “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 18:18 (NKJV): “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.”

In these verses, Jesus is speaking to Peter (in Matthew 16:19) and the disciples (in Matthew 18:18). The phrase “keys of the kingdom of heaven” signifies authority. By giving the disciples this authority, Jesus is entrusting them with significant spiritual responsibility.

Binding and Loosing

To understand “binding” and “loosing,” we need to explore their meanings in the cultural and religious context of the time:

  • Binding: To bind something means to prohibit or declare it unlawful. In a spiritual sense, it involves making decisions that prohibit certain behaviors or declare them as sinful or against God’s will.
  • Loosing: To loose something means to permit or declare it lawful. In the spiritual context, it involves making decisions that allow certain behaviors, declaring them to be within God’s will.

These terms were commonly used by Jewish rabbis to describe their authority in interpreting and applying the Law. By using these terms, Jesus was granting His disciples similar authority to make binding decisions on spiritual matters.

The Church’s Authority

Jesus’ statement about binding and loosing is directed towards the church, indicating that the church holds significant spiritual authority. This authority, however, is not arbitrary. It is derived from and must be exercised in accordance with God’s Word. The church’s role is to discern God’s will and make decisions that align with it.

John 20:22-23 (NKJV): “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'”

This passage reinforces the idea that the authority to bind and loose is given by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. All who deal with erring members of the church should always keep in mind that they are dealing with the eternal destiny of souls, and that the results of their work may be eternal.

Heaven’s Approval

The concept that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” emphasizes that the decisions made by the church on earth, when done in accordance with God’s will, will be upheld in heaven. This does not mean that heaven passively agrees with whatever the church decides. Instead, it implies that the church’s decisions are to be a reflection of God’s will, already established in heaven.

Matthew 6:10 (NKJV): “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The church is called to seek and implement God’s will on earth, ensuring that its decisions mirror the divine will that is already established in heaven.

The Keys to the Kingdom

Matthew 16:19 (NKJV):And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth [a]will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The “keys” to the kingdom of heaven are the words of Christ (John 1:12; 17:3). The Savior Himself speaks of the “key“ here referred to as “the key of knowledge” of how to enter the kingdom (Luke 11:52). The words of Christ “they are spirit, and they are life” to all who receive them (John 6:63). It is the word of Christ that brings eternal life (John 6:68). Accepting the Word of God leads to the new birth experience or conversion (1 Peter 1:23).

The saving power of the good news is the only thing that admits men and women into the kingdom of heaven. Christ simply given Peter and all the other disciples (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23) the authority and power to call people into the kingdom. It was Peter’s understanding of the truth that Jesus is indeed the Christ that put the “keys” of the kingdom in his heart and let him into the kingdom, and the same may be said of all Christ’s followers till the end of time.

The church on earth will ask only what heaven asks and will ban only what heaven bans. This is the clear teaching of the Scriptures (Matthew 7:21-27; Mark 7:6-13). As the apostles went forth to proclaim the gospel according to the commission given to them (Matthew 28:19,20), they were to teach the believers “to observe all things what so ever” Christ had commanded – no more and no less.

The “keys of the kingdom” symbolize the authority to open and close, admit and exclude. In the context of the church, this involves preaching the gospel, making disciples, and exercising church discipline.

Revelation 3:7 (NKJV): “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.”

Jesus holds ultimate authority, and by extension, He grants the church the authority to act on His behalf. This authority must be exercised in alignment with His teachings and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Practical Implications for the Church

Decision-Making in the Church

The authority to bind and loose has practical implications for church governance and discipline. The church is responsible for:

  1. Teaching and Doctrine: Ensuring that the teachings of the church align with Scripture. The church has the authority to declare certain teachings as false and to uphold the truth of the gospel.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 (NKJV): “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”

  1. Moral and Ethical Standards: The church must uphold moral and ethical standards based on biblical principles, declaring what is sinful and what is righteous.

1 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV): “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”

  1. Church Discipline: The church has the authority to exercise discipline within the congregation, addressing unrepentant sin and restoring members who have gone astray.

Matthew 18:15-17 (NKJV): “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. 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.”

Prayer and Petition

The concept of binding and loosing also applies to prayer. The church, in its prayers, seeks to align with God’s will and purposes. When the church prays in accordance with God’s will, it can expect to see those prayers answered.

1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV): “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

The Role of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in guiding the church’s decisions. The church must rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom and discernment in exercising its authority.

John 16:13 (NKJV): “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”


The concept of “whatever you bind on earth” as described in the New Testament entrusts the church with significant authority and responsibility. This authority must be exercised in alignment with God’s Word and will, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The church’s role is to reflect the divine will on earth, making decisions that are affirmed in heaven. By adhering to biblical principles and seeking God’s guidance, the church fulfills its mission of proclaiming the gospel, upholding truth, and guiding its members in righteousness.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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