By Dr. Richard Booker
Modern scholars have greater access to documents and research developments relating to first-century Judaism than at any other time in history. Many scholars, who only a few years ago were trying to disprove the Bible, are now working together to gain a better understanding of the ancient culture in which Jesus lived. Archaeological finds have become so plentiful that some have hailed these times as the beginning of a golden age of biblical archaeology.
All of these discoveries have not only given us further proof of the veracity of the Bible, but have given us a greater understanding of the period in which Jesus lived out His life on the earth and further evidence of the Jewishness of His teaching. He was Jewish and His teachings reflect His Jewishness.
The church at Rome was admonished by Paul that the Christian faith was never intended to be a repudiation of its Jewish roots, but rather, the engrafted Gentile Church was actually a branch that grew out of these roots (Rom. 11:18). The essence of these teachings is that without Judaism there would be no Christianity.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence of the thorough-going Jewishness of Jesus is His method of teaching. Over the past fifty years, studies of the Jewish nature of the early Church have brought to light many new insights into the first century documents, especially concerning the idioms and Galilean teaching methods of Jesus. In these articles we will study some of the more common idioms in the life of Jesus and His disciples.
The Keys of the Kingdom
An often misunderstood statement is found in Matthew 16:49, where Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom and says, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” For years this text has been greatly misunderstood, causing much confusion throughout Christendom. This is not a charismatic expression of authority over the principalities and powers but a judgment of the elders regarding the proper way to live together in community.
In Judaism, binding and loosing has long been understood to be a legal designation.
During the days of Jesus, these antonyms were used to describe certain religious decisions. The term bind meant to forbid, and loose meant to permit. There are numerous examples of this in rabbinical literature.
Acceptable and Not Acceptable
To understand this, we must know that first century rabbis were constantly called upon by their communities to interpret scriptural commands. For example, the Bible forbids working on the Sabbath but does not define what specific activities constitute work. As a result, the rabbis ruled as to which activities were permitted on the Sabbath and which were not. They bound or prohibited certain activities and loosed or allowed others.
Peter was given the keys, or the authority, to bind and loose concerning scriptural questions with the early Church. An example of this practice can be found in Acts 15, during the controversy over whether or not Gentiles should be admitted into the fellowship without first being circumcised.
After the apostles and elders convened in Jerusalem, Peter showed an example of loosing when he ruled that both Jews and Gentiles were part of Gods covenant. (Acts 15:9) Then James, the pastor of the Church at Jerusalem, gave an example of binding when he required the believing Gentiles to abstain from the four characteristic practices of the pagans (Acts 15:1320).
Binding and Loosing Today
In our local congregations and communities there are certain attitudes, behavior patterns, and practices which are acceptable and others which are not acceptable.
The people of God cannot live any way they desire. There must be a consensus among the community as to what is allowed and what is not allowed regarding moral standards and the practice of God’s Word.
Like the rabbis of old, the leadership of the congregation and/or community is charged by the Almighty to seek His will concerning these matters. As God gives clear direction, the leaders communicate to their community what attitudes and behavior they deem acceptable and not acceptable. This is the essence of the biblical meaning of binding and loosing.
There are 613 instructions in the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Covenant (Testament) contains approximately 1030 commands for walking with God. While the Bible tells us what God expects of us, it does not always tell us how to apply God a Word. This is often left to our own interpretation. While we should all seek God for His wisdom for our lives personally, it is the responsibility of our spiritual leaders to collectively seek the mind of God for His direction concerning decisions that relate to the standards and practices of the larger believing community.