Just What Does Matthew 18:18 Mean?

The “Church” has used this verse to authorize priests to forgive sins. They also reference John 20:23, when Yeshua breathed the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) on the disciples and (allegedly) authorized them to forgive sins.

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However, this is not the same as Matthew 18:18, in which Yeshua told his talmidim (students/disciples) that whatever they bind/prohibit on earth will be bound/prohibited in heaven, and whatever they loose/permit on earth will be loosed/permitted in heaven.

So, is this the same as forgiving sins? I don’t think so.

(I am using “The Jewish New Testament Commentary” by Daniel H. Stern to help explain my position.)

I don’t believe this has to do with forgiveness of sins because of the Jewish understanding of those terms, which is the only way that Yeshua would have meant them.

The traditional usage of “bind” and “loose” in Judaism (asar ve-hittir), as the Pharisees and Scribes would have used them, is relating to legal judgements and Halacha (The Way to Walk).

Halacha is defined as the collective body of Jewish religious laws that are derived from the written and Oral Torah. For example, having two sets of dishes, how far one can walk on the Shabbat, plus an additional plethora of rules for how we go through our daily activities.

We need to realize that Yeshua was talking specifically to his talmidim, those disciples closest to him. This chapter begins with his talmidim asking Yeshua to explain some of what he had been teaching, and in doing so he tells them that when two or more of them are together, he will be there with them. This means that he is granting them the authority to act in legal and daily activity judgements, just as the Sanhedrin would in creating both judicial and social regulations.

The Christian view of this is that “two or more” is the same as a minyan, which is a group of 10 or more men (as required by Halacha) to form a congregation. This passage, however, is not about prayer but about regulating Messianic communal life. When he said he will be there with them, he meant that the regulations they create on earth will have the backing of heaven.

In the Talmud, the following extract explains this:

“How do you know that if ten people pray together the Sh’khinah (“manifested divine presence”) is there with them? Because it is said ‘God stands in the congregation of God’ (Psalm 82:1a) [and a congregation must have a minyan of at least ten]. And how do you know that if three are sitting as a court of judges the Sh’khinah is there with them? Because it is said ‘In the midst of judges he renders judgement’ (Psalm 82:1b) [taking elohim to mean judges]; (B’rakhot 6a)

This is the way Yeshua would have known what was meant by the terms “loose” and “bind”.

In Daniel 7:22, he said, “The Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” And here we have Yeshua telling his talmidim that “Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

Clearly, Yeshua was telling his talmidim that they will be the ones to replace the Sanhedrin in the Acharit haYamim (End Days) and that whatever social and judgmental regulations they create will be supported by both Yeshua and God.

So, as far as Peter being the first Pope and men having the authority to forgive sins, well… not supported by the Bible, not even what John wrote- the only one who has authority to forgive sins is God, and God alone.

Yeshua doesn’t forgive sins: he is the means by which our sins can be forgiven.

It is so important to understand the traditional Jewish cultural usage and meaning of whatever you read in the Bible, especially in the New Covenant; otherwise, you will never be able to truly understand what Yeshua taught.

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That’s it for today, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!