In a recent blog post (see here), I suggested that the binding and loosing the Lord spoke of in Matt 16:18-19 concerned things, not people. Binding refers to prohibiting certain actions. Loosing refers to permitting or encouraging other conduct. I suggested that the apostles laid down for us God’s expectations for believers during the church age.
Several people wrote asking about the use of the perfect tense in the italicized phrases that follow: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Those are perfect tense, passive voice. That means that the action occurred in the past but has an abiding result. But it is not the apostles who bound and loosed these things in heaven. God did.
Eddie asked, “What factor do you see the perfect tenses having in this statement of Jesus?”
Tom asked a similar question: “Interesting question. There’s no explicit object. Whatever is neuter—so as you say, it must be things not persons. But the verb tenses are present and future perfect. The action is complete. So does that mean the authority given to apostles ended with John and is not passed on to successors?”
The Greek is called a future perfect periphrastic construction (see here, where Matt 16:19 is the example). This consists of a participle in the perfect tense joined with the be verb in the future tense: estai (= will be) dedemenon (has been bound) equals will have already been bound.
A wooden translation of those phrases would be will have been loosed in heaven and will have been bound in heaven. In other words, the loosing and binding the apostles did during their earthly ministries was based on an earlier loosing and binding by God in heaven. The apostles were not making this stuff up. God was telling them what was permitted and forbidden during this age.
Remember Peter’s vision in Acts 10. That is when he learned that the dietary restrictions under the Law of Moses were no longer in effect. Nor were restrictions about eating with Gentiles. While Peter is the one who announced the loosing of those things, it was God who had already done that loosing in heaven. The decree on earth was preceded by an earlier decree in heaven.
Tom asked whether this authority was passed on after the apostles. The answer is no. There are no apostles on earth today. Peter was not the first pope and there should never have been anyone in the church called the pope. No one today has the ability to write Scripture. The binding and loosing was completed in the first century.
R. T. France explains this periphrastic construction as follows:
The heavenly “endorsement” of Peter’s decisions is expressed (both here and in 18:18, twice in each verse) in the unusual syntax of future perfect passive verbs, “will have been tied up,” “will have been untied.” The construction is sufficiently unusual and indeed awkward in Greek to draw attention. If Matthew had wished to say “will be tied up,” “will be untied” (as many translations have it), he could have used the much more natural syntax of a simple future passive to say it. It seems likely, therefore, that these repeated future perfects are there for a reason. They change the sequence of actions. With simple futures, Peter would take the initiative and heaven would follow. But with future perfects the impression is that when Peter makes his decision it will be found to have been already made in heaven, making him not the initiator of new directions for the church, but the faithful steward of God’s prior decisions. In this syntactical form the saying becomes a promise not of divine endorsement, but of divine guidance to enable Peter to decide in accordance with God’s already determined purpose (Matthew, pp. 626-27).
Keep the great questions coming.