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The Conquest of the Rock: A New Look at Matthew 16 and the Keys of the Kingdom

Matthew 16:13-20 has been the subject of enormous controversy in the history of the Christian church. This is particularly the case with respect to the interpretation of its famous “rock” and “keys of the kingdom of heaven” clauses.[1] It is safe to say, in fact, that the church has never quite arrived as a universal exegesis of this passage.[2] Rather than summarizing these controversies directly, I will attempt to build a case for a positive reading of Matthew 16’s many images and motifs. In so doing, I will critique the most important alternative readings at the relevant points.[3] Given the enormous conversation of which this is a small part, these reflections can only be partial. Nevertheless, I suggest that the strength of the reading I propose here is that the various images of Matthew 16 hold together rather seamlessly – in contrast to the ad hoc connections they have in other readings.[4]

The text reads (in the NASB) as follows:

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.

 

Let us construct a reading in a series of numbered comments:

 

1 Starting with the widest lens, Patrick Schreiner’s “spatial analysis” of the Gospel of Matthew instructively demonstrates the manner in which the New Testament writer is concerned to highlight the collision between the earthly and spiritual realms. Jesus colonizes earth (which had been governed by demons) through binding the strongman, and re-ordering the world for reconciliation with heaven.[5]

2 The passage immediately preceding our text (Matt. 16: 5-12) is concerned with Jesus warning that His disciples beware of the teaching of the official teachers of Israel. If they are to be avoided, however, who will communicate God’s words? Who will replace the Sanhedrin? This dovetails a significant emphasis in all of the gospels (including John) and the book of Acts – in which the apostles (in particular) are portrayed as becoming leaders of Israel.

3 Focusing on the pericope itself, it is quite significant (but often overlooked) that our passage immediately involves Jesus coming “into the district of Caesarea Phillippi.” This region was at the base of Mount Hermon– a mountain at which the fertility god Pan was worshipped. The site was of great offense to the Jews, containing a disproportionate amount of pagan temples (and their attendant practices).[6] The Roman worship thus stood in continuity with ancient Baal worship in the same location, and indeed the entire surrounding region seems to have had significant demonic connotations for much of the Old Testament period.[7] In this region, at the base of the mountain, was a famous cave (from which a river flowed) which was thought to be an entrance and exit location for pagan gods. Ray Vander Laan writes, “To the pagan mind, the cave at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld, where fertility gods lived during the winter. They committed detestable acts to worship these false gods. Caesarea Phillippi’s location was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring waters flowed. At one time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set in the bottom of the cliff. The pagans of Jesus’ day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves. To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gave to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld.”[8] This mountain and its cave would likely have been in immediate proximity to Jesus as he had this conversation with His disciples. Putting the above three points together, here we have Jesus on a spiritually colonizing mission (casting out and confronting demons from one location to the next). Immediately before entering this location, Jesus begins to speak to His disciples about the deceptive teaching of the religious leaders of Israel. He then enters a particularly dark region of the land and asks his famous question.

4 Jesus asks His disciples who people have claimed that He is. Peter answer that He is the Christ, the son of the “living” God. There were many pagan images carved into the mountain near them (and in surrounding temples). It is possible that Peter is making a contrast here to the “non-living” pagan gods surrounding them – in the tradition of Psalm 115 (or Paul’s later discourse in Acts 17 on Mars Hill).

5 More interesting, however, is Jesus’ response. Of first importance is that Peter is treated by Christ as an oracle of divine revelation. As opposed to the religious leaders and all the theorists of Christ’s identity discussed among the apostles, Christ says to Peter, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” And it is on the basis of this confession that Jesus goes on to more famously say, “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.” Let us look at each component of this response:

6 Jesus clearly plays on words when he says “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.” The New Testament speaks of the apostolic ministry as a redemptive-historical foundation of the Christian church (Eph. 2:20).[9] Similar imagery is used of Abraham in the Old Testament (Isa. 51:1-2). I do not want to immediately discredit this connection, but it is worthy of note that Jesus does not say, “You are Peter, and on you I will build my church.” Why the play on words? Of course, there are many who argue that when Jesus says “this” rock– he draws attention back to Peter’s confession or to himself. No interpretation is completely natural. However, if we recall the location of the apostles at the base of Mount Hermon, it seems we have a non-arbitrary reading which preserves quite naturally Jesus’ play on words. What if Jesus is continuing the heavenly warfare theme that characterizes the gospel of Matthew? “You are Peter, and on ‘this’ rock (pointing to Mount Hermon – a consummate site of paganism), I will build my church.” This would be an astounding claim. Rather than being a site to be avoided, the Christian church is meant to go on the offensive against the land spiritually ruled by demonic powers and occupy it especially in its strongholds. And it is precisely in the sight of such power that Christ will stake His flag and build His people. It could be retorted, perhaps, that Jesus speaks of Peter as “this” rock in contrast to that rock (Mount Hermon). However, it is unclear why He would make such a clarification– unsurprising as His avoidance of impure paganism would be to His Jewish hearers. But to storm the impure sites of paganism as the foundation of His kingdom? This would be a shocking claim to His Jewish hearers– and in concert with Jesus’ constant reversal of Rabbinic emphases, as well as later teaching in the New Testament. The connection to Matthew 28 is not arbitrary. This is a cryptic statement of the Great Commission. In conjunction with the below points, this reading is quite persuasive.

7 Supporting interpretation is the statement that immediately follows – “and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” As commonly noted, the image here is not one of the church successfully defending itself against the forces of darkness. Gates are a defensive mechanism, and the image is rather one of the colonization of heaven.

8 What is more, the cave of Caesarea Philippi was seen by the pagans as a gate to the underworld. We can imagine Jesus literally pointing to a cave in the earth and saying, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” that is, will not subvert it from beneath. Once again, the image is likely right in front of them, and Jesus is effectively saying, “We’re going in.” This is a statement of the church militant against demonic forces and culture. Fascinatingly, there is also a Rabbinic tradition which associated the coming of the Messiah with the collapse of the gates of Banias (or Caesarea Philippi).[10]

9 Intensifying this connection is the following narrative of the Transfiguration (on “a high mountain” – 17:1) which was very likely Mount Hermon. Right after Jesus says that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church, He apparently climbs the very mount to which He was pointing and is publicly transfigured before the apostles – revealed (in a prominent pagan holy site) as the Son of God.

10 Jesus goes on to say that He will give to Peter the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Some have found a reference herein to Isaiah 22:22, in which one is given the “key of David” such that what is shut is open and what is open is shut in the temple setting. Though an attractive option with much historical precedent, there are some linguistic problems. First, the “keys” in Matthew 16 are plural, and in Isaiah 22 the “key” is singular. As well, the singular “key of David” is quite evidently possessed by Christ alone in Revelation 3:7. What is more, it is not clear that Isaiah 22’s “opening” and “shutting” corresponds to “binding” and “loosing” of Matthew 16. And still further, even if they did, there is a reversal of actions in the formula. Jesus speaks of “binding” and “loosing,” but the Isaiah passage speaks of “opening” and “shutting.” If the former came from the later, we might expect Jesus to speak of “loosing” first (corresponding to “opening”) and “binding” later (corresponding to “shutting”).

11 Nevertheless, the image of “opening” and “shutting” itself is likely in view with the “keys” themselves (not necessarily with “binding” and “loosing” which I will address below). This image is fairly common in the gospel tradition with respect to the leaders of Israel. Jesus says that the Pharisees “shut off the kingdom of heaven from people” even as they “do not enter” themselves (23:13). Indeed, in teaching a false doctrine, their converts are “twice as much a son of hell” as they (v. 15). There is also the matter of temple access (i.e. being “put out” of the temple) which was, in the Jewish world, tantamount to prevention from salvation. We see much of this at play in the account of the blind man in John 9. Interestingly, in a parallel passage to the “woes” of Matthew 23, Jesus even uses the metaphor of a “key of knowledge” which the lawyers had refused to the people (Luke. 11:52). Both in their control of the temple and their distortion of divine revelation, they closed off the kingdom of heaven to themselves and those whom they led.

12 However, the most overt parallel (both in the below English translation and in the original Greek text) to the Matthean use of “keys” is in non-biblical literature. In 3 Baruch 11:1-3, we read, “And the angel took me and led me thence to a fifth heaven. And the gate was closed. And I said, ‘Lord, is not this gateway open that we may enter?’ And the angel said to me, ‘We cannot enter until Michael comes, who holds the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; but wait and thou shalt see the glory of the Lord. And there was a great sound as thunder.” It is worthy of note that there is not only a linguistic parallel here, but similar language used of Jesus quasi-angelic transformation in Matthew 17. The keys are an angelic possession (in Matthew they belong to Jesus). But, shockingly, He gives them away. When He does so, the opening and shutting of heaven– His pre-incarnate angelic prerogative –is now placed into the hands of men. How so? We shall get to this more fully below. Preliminarily, it is worthy of note that the failure of Israel’s leaders is replaced by organs of revelation who have the assurance of divine presence. And the New Testament, as well as the Jewish literature of the time, often speaks of divine revelation as mediated through angels (Acts 7:53, Gal. 3:19, Heb. 2:2). The passing on of the prerogative of the archangel to men, therefore, is minimally to be associated with their possessing the revelation of the Father.

13 Let us pull some of these threads together in a preliminary fashion as a way to contextualize our reading of “binding” and “loosing.” It seems apparent that the image of the “keys” has something to do with “opening” and “closing.” In Rabbinic literature, “binding” and “loosing” language often referred to permissions and prohibitions of communal life. However, if we were inclined to avoid mixed metaphors, we might consider other interpretations.[11] To arrive at an interpretation, let us consider the images we have before us so far. Jesus, the colonizer from heaven (triumphing over the demonic) warns the disciples about the teaching of the leaders of Israel. Unlike these leaders, Peter receives revelation from heaven. Immediately after this revelation is proclaimed, Jesus presumably points to a pagan holy site and says that He will build his new community upon it. The forces of Hell will not be able to prevent the success of His people, and Peter (in this passage) will be given the keys– which presumably accomplish the mission of building God’s people upon the ashes of the demonic rule. How do the keys accomplish this. In contrast to the stormed gates of Hell, the gates of heaven will be opened? How so? Apparently by “binding” and “loosing.” If we stick with the angelic/spiritual warfare imagery that has apparently been prominent thus far, it would seem plausible that “binding” and “loosing” might actually refer to binding and loosing in the spiritual realm. First to note is that Matthew’s usage of the term is almost entirely in terms of binding a body for imprisonment or for untying (loosing) that which is tied up (Matt. 13:30, 14:3, 21:2, 22:13, 27:2). One particularly interesting usage is in Jesus reference to “binding” the strong-man (i.e. Satan – Matthew 12:29). Given the Matthean tendency to speak of “binding” in this manner, and the precedent in Matthew 12, is seems quite possible that the original referent to “binding” and “loosing” has to do with defeating the forces of evil while releasing those who are captive to it. This also makes sense of the order. It requires first “binding” the forces of evil to “release” those who are captive to it. What is more, the passage then flows rather seamlessly. Peter speaks divine words, and with these divine words, Jesus will colonize the sites of paganism (which will not be successful against His gospel), and those same words are the “sword” (Eph. 6:17) which slays the evil one, and which release persons from their spiritual bondage.

14 And here we see the two threads are connected. Jesus’ colonization mission has a problem. The leaders of Israel are not speaking words which open heaven, but rather which shut it. Peter, on the other hand– by revelation –speaks words which open heaven and fight against Hell in a way that the leaders of Israel fail to do. Indeed, it will be a commonplace in the apostolic proclamation to consider the leaders of Israel as in concert with demonic forces and complicit in idolatry (especially in Acts and Revelation).

15 We can tease out some of the theological implications of this reading, as well as some important intra-biblical parallels. Peter is clearly not here pictured as having such binding and loosing authority in his own person. In fact, putting Peter in this arch-angelic role is fascinatingly juxtaposed by Jesus’ rebuke that he speaks from Satan just a few verses later! (v. 23) It seems clear, therefore, that it is by virtue of Peter’s words, revealed to him of the Father, that the forces of darkness are defeated and that the inhabitants of darkness are released. That is to say, the keys which opens and shuts the kingdom of heaven (and therefore defeat evil while freeing the soul) are contained in the gospel message itself.

16 Conducive to this reading is the future passive participles rightly rendered in the NASB “shall have been bound in heaven” and “shall have been loosed” in heaven. To whatever extent Peter or the apostles’ words are effective, their words must be words of heaven. It is only to the extent that they speak the truth that their words carry heavenly significance. Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2 suggests that the apostles could fail in this. Indeed, in Galatians 1, Paul expects that his listeners ought to be able to discern if even he himself or an angel from heaven spoke to them differently than the word that they had already received. There is no question here, therefore, of some automatic connection between the keys and any Christian office. Let us unpack this a bit further.

17 It is sometimes argued, in the parallel case of Matthew 18, that Jesus has in view any ordinary situation wherein persons are gathered “in my name.”[12] Presumably, whatever occurs in such a context contains His authority. If Matthew 18 concerns any communal gathering which claims the name of Christ, it would seem possible that the keys could (in principle) be misused. Such misuse would obviously be wrong, but it would still be divine authority wrongly exercised. Now, of course, it is certainly true that God can be misrepresented by His people, and there is some biblical language about the manner in which the name of Christ is attached to an ordinary gathering (1 Cor. 5:4). However, several features of our text suggest that we cannot automatically associate the authority of the keys with any statement uttered in the name of Christ. The future passive participles have already been noted (“shall have been bound”). Matthew 18 even goes further, however. Jesus goes on to say, “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.” (v. 19-20) It is crystal clear in this context not only that the brother committing a “sin” in verse 15 is assumed to actually have committed a sin (so we’re already not addressing a situation where the church is wrong), but it is also apparent that earth is not merely representing heaven here. Jesus could not state more clearly that whatever is requested will be done in heaven. This necessitates that what is being requested is requested in truth. And this is guaranteed by the promise of His divine presence. Because Jesus is with them (in the described circumstance), their request communicates a heavenly reality. This is analogous to Peter’s speaking of the Father, and Jesus’ promise of divine presence at the end of Matthew 28. The church has only the authority to “teach all that I commanded you,” not to teach what He did not command. The promise of His presence is to preserve and to make the word successful despite human weakness and fragile circumstance. The “in my name” of Matthew 18, to this extent, ought to be taken in parallel to the usage in verse 5 of the same chapter. Whoever receives little ones in Jesus’ name is one who accurately represents Jesus’ posture toward these children.[13] The idea here is simply the accurate representation of Christ. Similarly, it is assumed that many come in Christ’s name (Matt. 24:5) who are deceivers and who ought to be rejected. The phrase, therefore, does not imply some absolute bearing of the name of Christ, but can only truly be paired with a right representation of Christ. Those who speak in His name falsely have neither His presence nor act as His representatives in their false proclamation.[14]

18 Is the context of Matthew 18 consistent, however, with our analysis of “binding” and “loosing” in Matthew 16? Surely here it refers to persons rather than to demons. It would seem so, but it is worthy of note that this is a fluid boundary in New Testament theology. The epistles frequently speak of persons in stubborn sin as under the influence of the demonic. To throw them out of the church is to “deliver them to Satan” (as Paul does in Corinthians). What is more, it is to cast Satan out of the church. The key point, nevertheless, is that this binding and loosing are declarative. The removal from the community is a disciplinary measure which says something like, “In this behavior, you are demonic, dangerous to us, have no reason to be treated as a Christian, and liable to God’s wrath, etc.” While Matthew 16 is more focused on the ministry of the apostles, Matthew 18 is more focused on the types of ministries delineated in Ephesians 4 rather than Ephesians 2. Arguably, the offices given the visible church in Ephesians 4 are “atop” the foundation-laying ministry of the apostles in Ephesians 2. Similarly, Matthew 18 speaks about a more ordinary ministry of the keys which sits atop a more redemptive-historical exercise of them in the apostolic ministry of revelation. The former is an application of the latter – the ordinary work of applying the extraordinary apostolic deposit to persons. In any case, it is nevertheless clear that this ordinary exercise of the keys is only an exercise of the keys (by the guarantee of Christ’s presence) to the extent that the heaven is really opened and shut in rightly applied apostolic words of binding and loosing. Failure in this can mean that one “shuts heaven” or “withholds the key of knowledge”– i.e. fail to use the keys at all.[15]

19 That the keys are the gospel promises and warnings themselves are further confirmed by Jesus’ putting his words in “future tense.” I “will give you” the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It would seem that this occurs in John 20, when Jesus breathes the Spirit on the apostles (giving them a particular ministry) and states, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (v. 21) Clearly, Jesus does not anticipate that the apostles themselves would forgive sins – but rather that they would proclaim the gospel as indicating the forgiveness or lack thereof in particular situations. Some have argued that the Apostles had divine insight into who was saved and damned (citing Acts 5 and the case of Ananias and Sapphira as evidence), but there are counterarguments that need not detain us here.

20 One objection to the above reading of “binding” and “loosing” is that Jesus speaks of “whatever” you bind rather than “whoever” you bind. However, if the reference is largely to matters of spiritual war, the impersonal language concerning the demonic makes sense. Demons are not embodied in Scripture, but rather parasites on good bodies. They are often spoken of as “it.” Furthermore, the ministry of binding and loosing (in the New Testament) is not absolute. The object is never a person considered entirely, but a person in conjunction with a behavior at a particular moment in visible history on earth. There is always the possibility of repentance, and even the passages immediately preceding and succeeding the statement in Matthew 18 are about winning one’s brother, forgiving one’s brother, and finding the lost. The binding and loosing apply absolutely to quasi-personal demonic influence and their attendant behaviors, and only relatively to persons strictly considered.[16]

21 How do the “keys of the kingdom” relate to the “key of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:19)? Formerly, it would seem that Satan had the “power of death” (Hebrews. 2:14), but now Jesus can release those who were subject to the fear of death (v. 15)– because He has earned the key of death and Hades in His own death. Christ has invaded the place of the dead and released its captives (cf. also Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 Peter 3:19).

22 Matthew 18 already freely employs the categories of Matthew 16 in a different context, just as Ephesians 4 freely employs the same offices and architectural language of Ephesians 2 in a different context. We should take note of the manner in which the substance of the images can be seamlessly applied in different contexts. This should give us a larger sense of what the images are meant to focus on. Apparently, the keys are an apostolic ministry, but they can be exercised in ordinary church communities. Do they go further? If the keys which open and shut heaven are simply binding and loosing proclamation, then they simply are the word as it confronts any person or situation. Paul speaks of individuals sharing the word of God with one another (Col. 3). He makes it clear that the Galatian Christians could question an apostle on behalf of the Gospel (Gal. 1-2). What this suggests, then, is that the “logic” of Matthew 16 is that the word has power over the forces of darkness– binding evil and freeing those bound by evil–at whatever sphere is proper a person wielding the word. There is a particular redemptive-historical application of the ministry of the keys in the life of the apostles. There is an ordinarily communal application of the ministry of the keys in normal Christian community (whether exercised by leaders or by the group). And there is an individual Christian ministry of the keys in our speaking the word of God to one another. But the fact than an individual can rebuke an apostle puts in stark refrain that the essential matter of the keys is the word itself acting in history to push back the forces of darkness (in personal or abstract form) and to release the captives– largely through the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. This further disassociates any reduction of the ministry of the keys to the possession of any standing office. While officers are trained to study the word and apply it, and therefore are more ordinarily associated with this ministry, such association is simply on account of the manner in which the word is rendered more prominent in their vocation. To the extent that they fail to speak or apply the word, to that extend they cease to use the keys. To the extent, moreover, that any Christian speaks the truth to a person or situation, to that extent such a person participates in the ministry of the keys in a particular context to the situations which are immediate to them (parents to children, brother to brother, etc).[17]

23 One objection to the above might be that the Old Testament analogue to this ministry (of proclamation) did not have this multi-layered dimension that I am arguing for in New Testament theology. However, it would seem that just as God could communicate his word through an ass, and just as Moses wished that all of God’s people might prophecy (Num. 11:29), and just as Moses could be rightly rebuked by his wife (Exo. 4:25)– so the official teaching ministry of Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings did not preclude the possibility that ordinary Israelites could know and apply God’s words, and even have to discern God’s prophets (Deut. 18).

Conclusion

As is apparent, this interpretation of Matthew 16 is not entirely unlike other interpretations. Many of the qualifications and theological explications I have highlighted are similar to considerations that have been common in the Reformed tradition. Nevertheless, these positions– and my critique of readings with massively problematic pastoral implications– are strengthened when we put some of the fairly traditional observations in conversation with insights gained from modern archaeology and our knowledge of second temple literature. As well, the implications are to highlight the manner in which the church conducts its spiritual warfare with the word of Christ precisely in those locations where the influence of our enemy reigns. This is accomplished by the apostolic deposit as such (preserved in Scripture), in our gathered communities, in the church as an organism, and at any point in which an individual believer engages in warfare against the evil one in any dimension of the Christian life – as union with Christ and His presence with us in His word slays the evil one makes the kingdom of God manifest in the here and now.

 

notes:


[1] See, for instance, the many interpretations highlighted by Hunter Powell in his The Crisis of British Protestantism: Church Power in the Puritan Revolution 1638-44 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015).

[2] On the patristic exegesis, see William Webster, The Matthew 16 Controversy: Peter and the Rock (Lincroft: Calvary Press, 1996).

[3] In particular, I am focused upon the Roman Catholic and Protestant “disciplinarian” readings (whether Presbyterian or Congregationalist) that do not sufficiently qualify the manner in which the visible church’s representation of Christ is limited. The best Reformed and exegetical treatment of the passage, which avoids major theological problems, is to be found in Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), 334-96.

[4] Jonathan Leeman’s exegesis, for instance, requires that Jesus is engaged in a massively mixed metaphor. See his The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 184. For general discussion, see the commentary of John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 654-83.

[5] See his The Body of Jesus: A Spatial Analysis of the Kingdom in Matthew (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

[6] See the comments of Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Bellingham: Lexham, 2015), 281-5

[7] See ibid, 192-201.

[8] See the work of Ray Vander Laan, https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/gates-of-hell-article. More generally, see John Francis Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, Banias, The Lost City of Pan (New York: I.B. Taurus, 2004).

[9] On this, see Richard Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 93-7.

[10] John Francis Wilson, Caesarea Philippi, Banias, The Lost City of Pan (New York: I.B. Taurus, 2004), 74.

[11] The many interpretive possibilities are summarized by W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991) 2:636–641. The force of the above interpretation does not depend upon this reading of binding and loosing. And indeed, the practical implication is largely the same as if Jesus is using the term in the Rabbinic sense – a la the more common reading.

[12] This would parallel the manner in which Old Testament Israel had God’s name attached to it and was, according to the commandment, not to “bear” it in vain (Exo. 20:7).

[13] Interestingly, the language parallels that which Jesus uses of the apostles in Matthew 10:40 (i.e. “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me”).

[14] Likewise, it is unclear that the “in the name of the Lord Jesus” clause in 1 Cor. 5:4 has to do with the “gathering” or with Paul’s statement. Either way, accuracy is assumed of what is done in Jesus’ name.

[15] Calvin makes this essential connection to the word (and nothing beyond the word) crystal clear. See Matthew Tuininga, Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church: Christ’s Two Kingdoms (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), Chapter 6.

[16] Cf Francis Turretin, “Further this ejection from the church is to be conceived of in different ways according to its twofold state. For as to the external state, it denotes a real separation from the external communion of the church and the use of the sacraments, but not a perpetual separation; rather for a time, until he has repented. As to the internal, it is not a real expulsion from the mystical body of Christ; for he who has once been joined to that body can never be cast out from it. Rather it is only a threatening or declaration of the intrinsic demerit of guilt (to wit, that such an impenitent and contumacious sinner deserves to be cast out of that society according to the sentence of God pronounced against such sinners (1 Cor. 6:9). Consequently, he is deservedly deprived of the sense of the presence of God in this life and will be deprived of the enjoyment of glory in the other, unless he repents. Hence we are not at once to believe that by excommunication the sinner is simply and absolutely cut off from the body of Christ; for he does not cease often to be a member of the church in secret and as to internal state, although as to external discipline he may for a time be removed from the society of believers,” Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 3 (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997), 294.

[17] Ordinarily, of course, a minister is more innately competent, trained, and is (in fact) paid/set apart to go study the word so that the word can burn more brightly. It is not that he possesses a different fire with different potentialities (a small fire can burn down a building just as a larger one can). It is rather that learning, investment, competency, intelligence, training, etc– are all (as it were) “kindling” on the fire that is possessed in common by all believers. If I were to extend this image, we might say that every torch of the church adds a bit of its own kindling in the representative minister– whose relation to the word then ordinarily burns more brightly. But this is precisely so that the resultant flame of the word can be passed back to the torches of the community. And indeed, this makes the community dangerous when the minister goes off track.

By Joseph Minich

Joseph Minich lives in Texas with his wife (Rebecca) and four children (Samuel, Truman, Felix, and Ruby). He recently graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary (D.C. Campus) and is pursuing a Ph.D in intellectual history at the University of Texas at Dallas.