Greek Tenses: “Binding and Loosing”
Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:19.
To bind is to allow something we believe the Scriptures allow, and to loose something is to disallow it in the same way. It is an idiom from Jewish teaching, but Jesus fills it with a new life and reality.
The principle of binding and loosing from a Christian perspective is taught to Peter in Matthew 16:19, and the same teaching is given in 18:18, to the church as a whole. In both verses Jesus is teaching about the believer’s authority, especially as regards the forgiving of sin in the community. The idea is clarified in John 20:23.
As so often, the tenses used in the Greek convey meaning that is lost in our translations. In both Matthew and John, the construction is one we have come across before – they are third class conditionals. Literally translated, John 20:23 reads:
“If you should forgive anyone’s sins, they have been forgiven them; if you should retain anyone’s, they have been retained.”
Notice the peculiar strength of certainty John is emphasising: if you should, at some point in the future, forgive someone’s sins, they have been forgiven.
Matthew raises the certainty to an even greater pitch:
“Whatever you should bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you should loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Through the choice of tenses in these passages, Jesus describes a kind of utterance that echoes the mind of God so closely that when we speak, what we say has already been decreed in heaven. It is great authority; may our Father give us the wisdom to use it rightly.