“AN EXPLORATION OF BINDING AND LOOSING IN CHRISTIAN PRAYER”
(Preface: This expresses much of what I think about the topic of binding and loosing, which has become an issue with the emphasis on spiritual mapping. My old friend, Eric Fransen, has produced a very helpful evaluation of this particular emphasis. Kent Philpott)
When speaking on the topic Spiritual Warfare, one cannot escape the idea of Binding Prayers. These types of prayers have been popular for a number of years, and may sound like: “We bind you Satan in Jesus’ name”, “We just pray that the demon of disobedience or alcoholism in our friend’s life be bound in Jesus’ name” or “Satan, we bind you as we begin to worship in this place”. Those who pray these types of prayers can feel a sense of power, an assurance of victory for they have claimed authority over Satan. Feelings of safety arise as they are certain deliverance is at hand.
Opinions range from Frederick Leahy who raises concerns when dealing with the demonology writers that “Pay scant attention to biblical evidence, pander to the sensational and often arrive at unwarranted conclusions”
to the other end of the spectrum, where C.P. Wagner proposes that: “While ‘binding and loosing’ are indeed applied to church discipline in Matthew 18, the terms are first introduced by Jesus in Matthew 16, in conjunction this time with world evangelization. Evidently, binding and loosing have a part in many different aspects of Christian ministry.” It is C.P. Wagner’s avocation of
many different aspects of Christian ministry that is most concerning. If a verse or verses are going to be applied in ways more than their immediate context provides, we need to be sure that we are not proof-texting to fit a preconceived idea. Ideas which may be generated either by one’s own mind or inspired by the demonic realm. It was Jesus’ devotion to his Father in heaven and correct understanding of the scripture that allowed Him to resist the temptations in the desert. It was the Devil’s illegitimate use of scripture, proof-texts as it were, that were at the core of those temptations. Had Adam and Eve gone back to God and asked Him to clarify what he meant when he said “…you surely will die…”(Gen 2:17) when the serpent offered his teaching of God’s word, we would have had our first lesson in hermeneutics and not in discipline. We need to follow Luke’s observation of the Bereans who were considered to be of more noble character than the Thessalonians because they examined the scripture to confirm what was being taught by Paul and Silas was doctrinally sound (Acts 17:11). It seems that they had learned from Adam and Eve. Proverbs says it is the wise that learns from the fool’s mistakes.
To be sure, there are verses that use the words bind and loose. However, are prayers based on binding and loosing true to biblical form? Do binding and loosing prayers fit into C.P. Wagner’s statement ““in many different aspects of Christian ministry”?
Powelson, Power Encounters:
Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, Feb
Kraft, Behind Enemy Lines
(Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000; Servant Publishers,
A quick glance at the concordance lists 3 verses in the NIV which use the English word bind: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”(Mt 16:19, 18:18) and “This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.” (Mk5:3) Clearly Mark 5:3 does not fit the idea of prayer but it is the same word “bind” which may give a hint to the range of meaning. Perhaps it is intensity, effectiveness or strength that is being conveyed.
Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 by themselves can leave the impression we have been granted authority to cause things in heaven to be a certain way. What we say here makes it so happen in heaven. It sounds almost as if we would be able dictate decisions made in heaven. Whatever you guys decide down there, we’ll go by it up here.
Things are beginning to feel a bit backward. Now it is time to look at another translation. A parallel bible containing four versions facilitates the research. The chosen parallel bible for this project contains the KJV, (accepted as the oldest English version), the New Living Translation (a paraphrase), the New International version (widely used today), and the New American Standard (closest to word for word form the original languages). The NIV said the same thing… the New Living Translation and the King James versions held no significant variances from the NIV. The New American Standard Bible is a bit different: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Here it seems that Peter will be doing nothing more than that which is done or has been done in heaven. These ideas present a conflict. On a personal application note, if on one hand, Jesus said whatever you bind here will be bound in heaven, who am I to argue? It gives me authority and power. Still, it seems the approach could make heaven my servant – even if I am doing the will of God. On the other hand, am I limited to that which has been done, so then can we do anything at all? However, Jesus did say apart from Him I can do nothing. It is time to dig deeper.
Discovering which is the best way to translate these verses should bring us closer to rightly dividing the Word in this area. The Anchor Bible says this about the syntax of the binding and loosing part of the verse: “The Latin Vulgate also translates as “will have been bound,’ ‘will have been loosed,’ exactly corresponding to the Greek.”
The writers of the Anchor bible state the English translates from Latin
and Greek into “shall have been” and not “will be”. If the NIV said something to the effect of “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, for you to bind what you will, and loose what you will, but by the time you are to do these things on earth, those things will have already been bound and loosed in heaven”, then the NIV translators would have been closer to the Greek but the reading would be not as smooth and rather difficult for the reader.
W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The
Anchor Bible (Garden City, CA: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1971),
Furthermore, the Expositor’s Bible is more technical. Pointing out these verses contain what are called “future periphrastic perfects”.
“In 1938 J.R.Mantey…argued that the perfects in all three instances must have their normal force. The finite perfect in John 20:23 must be rendered “If you forgive anyone his sins, they have already have been forgiven”; and when the perfect participle is given it’s full force in the Mathean passages, the periphrastic future perfect in 16:19 becomes “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven’(similarly for 18:18)”.
Understanding now which translation is closer to the original, the next step is to see the larger context of these verses. It turns out that this phrase is only one half of a sentence in one of the passages. In Mark 16:19 whatever you bind is prefaced by “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you shall bind… But even this is not enough to get the picture. More context was needed. Starting with verse 13:
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.” (NASB)
Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984).
So Jesus is cementing who he is in the minds of Simon Barjona and the other disciples after Simon rightly proclaims Jesus is the Christ. It is noteworthy to mention Simon did not come to this conclusion through his own insight or discernment, the Father in heaven revealed it to him. The idea that it is the Father who reveals himself and he is not revealed by our own efforts is expanded in Ephesians - even the faith we exercise in believing is not our own, but is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8,9). Nevertheless, Simon acknowledges Jesus as the Christ and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Jesus then gives him a new name, the Rock. It is a suitable name for what Jesus sees in him, more appropriate than the pebble or the sponge. There will be nothing small or squishy of Simon’s nature left in Peter. Peter, the Rock, a foundation for the Church Jesus will build. A church so strong the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Peter will receive the keys and authority, but only after Jesus shall have bound and loosed in heaven, the situations which Peter will be binding and loosing in his coming ministry.
“Peter’s possession of the keys of the Kingdom gives him the right to grant or deny admittance into the Kingdom”. This is logical because the one with keys opens that which is locked. In this case, it would appear the Father has, in a sense, locked the truth of the gospel message to hide it from the learned, but will allow it to be revealed to the children (MT 11:25). “This authority is expressed through the distinctive rabbinic idiom ‘binding and loosing’”. A major concern is for responsible binding and loosing. This can only be done if one is appropriately connected to God and the kingdom of heaven, in order to hand down or unlock for that which will have been bound or loosed in heaven. Notice the warning by Jesus to the teachers of the law in Matthew 23:13, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (NIV) Here we see people trying to enter the kingdom and the Pharisees and Scribes are effectively shutting the kingdom of heaven to others while not entering themselves! It is not too strong to say they are shutting the gate of the kingdom of heaven, one could say they have the keys to the kingdom. Soon those keys will be taken away from them and given to Peter.
World Biblical Commentary (USA: Word, Incorporated, 1995), 472.
There is a parallel here in the Old Testament where the shepherd boy David is told he is the king’s successor. David knows he is the chosen one of God, yet he must wait patiently for the appointed time while honoring the current chosen one. Peter is told he will have the keys to the kingdom gate while Jesus points out the teachers of the law are not unlocking the kingdom gate as they should but locking it up leaving themselves on the outside! Similar to locking yourself out of your car, completely unaware you were doing so because at the time, you were distracted with so many other things. The reality of your actions and the consequences thereof are immediately clear. Peter must wait, just as David waited for the appointed time. During the time of Jesus’ ministry the teachers had the kingdom all locked up.
In the book of Acts, at Pentecost Peter unlocks the gate to the kingdom of heaven first for the Jews (Acts 2) and three thousand were added to the number of those who believed. Later he preaches to the Samaritans (Acts 8), and opens the gate for them, and finally, he opens the gate for the Gentiles (Acts
10) . As the scripture says, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.
We have yet to arrive at the meaning of binding and loosing. The World Commentary explains:
“Again, the question of ‘binding and loosing’ has given rise to much discussion. Among the options that have been offered, the following may be mentioned (see the review in Davies-Allison). “Binding and loosing can be regarded as the language of demon exorcism (cf. Heirs), but this interpretation cannot be made to fit the context. Equally unlikely is the suggestion that the phrase refers to the placing and removing of magical curses (F.C. Conybare, “Christian Demonology,’ JQR9  444-70). More reasonable, but still unconvincing is the application of the words to a ban, i.e., of excommunication (Buchsel, TDNT 2:60-61)… The words are better taken in the wider sense of wrong and right conduct, on the rabbinic model of specific, practical interpretation of the Torah, the determination of what was forbidden and what was permitted (so to B.H. Streeter, The Primitive Church [New York: Macmillian,  63; Derrett; Zahn; Davies-Allinson; Luz), or somewhat more generally, ‘teaching authority’ (Bornkamm, Perspective 11  37-50).”
To elaborate on the point of exorcism mentioned above Keener states:
“The more popular use of “binding and loosing today in many circles (exercising authority over the devil) resembles instead an ancient practice in the magical papyri - also called ‘binding’ – of manipulating demons to carry out a magician’s will.”
Keener says it in another way: “Although ancient magical texts regularly speak of ‘binding’ or tying up spirits magically so one can rule them, Jesus…does not refer to magical binding…”.
So the best sense of the words in question here, are about teaching and nothing to do with restraining demons. Unless we are talking about defeating the doctrines of demons as mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…”. This verse specifically states those that have abandoned the faith will do these things but it also shows that there are doctrines or teachings of demons to which we can fall prey.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds
Commentary: Volume 1, Matthew, Mark and Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
-- World Biblical Commentary, 472,473.
Keener, IVP New Testament commentary
series; 1 (Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1997), 289.
2 Corinthians 10:4,5 states: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God…”. The strongholds mentioned here are in the context of highly regarded opinions, and ideas raised in opposition to God’s ideas or the knowledge of God. We have seen by example, how Jesus defeated some of those differing ideas presented to him in the desert.
The other passage that contains binding and loosing is Matthew 18:18 with the surrounding context being 18:15-20.
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
Now the attention shifts from Peter to that of the disciples. Peter will be the first to receive the keys and is to become the rabbinical authority among the disciples. Here we see binding and loosing in the context of church discipline. This is a long-standing rabbinical pattern Jesus applies to his church. Keener once again provides details: “The Dead Sea scrolls also emphasize this sequence: private reproof, then before witnesses and finally before the gathered assembly… Public admonition was reserved for the severest of circumstances.” This final
judgment is in the same vein as when Jesus warned about the Pharisees leaven and how a little leaven leavens the whole batch. Once the 3 stages have been carried out, the offender, by his rejection of repeated calls to repentance forfeits his privilege to fellowship. Placing him outside of the fellowship “believers merely ratify the heavenly courts decree…removing branches already dead on the vine”.
A cursory look at Matthew 12:29, “… how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” (NASB). The word for ties here is the same Greek word for “bind” studied earlier. The Expositor’s Bible commentary advances this idea. Namely that the one who ties up/binds is the Messiah and does not allude to anyone else.
“The opening here means ”Or look at it another way.’ Some Jewish expectation looked forward to the binding of Satan in the Messianic Age (as Moses 10:1; cf Rev 20:2); and under this metaphor Jesus is the one who ties up the strong man (Satan) and carries off his ‘possessions’(‘vessels’ preserves the metaphor of the house and has no relation to [demonic] possession except metaphorically). The argument has thus advanced; if Jesus’ exorcisms cannot be attributed to Satan (vv25-26), then they reflect authority greater than that of Satan. By this greater power Jesus is ‘binding’ ‘the strong man’ and plundering his ‘house’. So the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing.”
-- Ibid, 289
-- Expositor's Bible Commentary, 300.
Clearly the idea that these verses give us some authority to bind the devil or demons in relation to personal
temptations or to make the gospel more readily received is extra biblical and borders on magical connotations. During his ministry on earth Jesus has bound the strong man and carried off his possessions. The strong man verse relates a spiritual warfare scenario we as believers may engage in – one of exorcism (casting out demons from someone inhabited by one or more demons). The verse says nothing about a believer binding/blocking Satan from a building, guarding us, or inoculating us from his temptations. The recommended solution for combating Satanic attacks in this life is to pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
" `Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ' (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)
James, the brother of our Lord, offers his relative advice as well:
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10, NASB)
Albright, W.F., and C.S. Mann. The Anchor Bible. Garden City, CA: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1971.
Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984.
Keener, Craig. IVP New Testament commentary series; 1. Downers Grove, Il: Intervarsity Press, 1997.
Kraft, Charles. Behind Enemy Lines. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000; Servant Publishers, 1994.
Powelson, David. Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, Feb 2003.
World Biblical Commentary. USA: Word, Incorporated, 1995.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Volume 1, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.