False Spiritual Warfare Teachings: Binding and Loosing

Worldview Weekendby Bob DeWaay

"I bind you, Satan!" is uttered in thousands of prayers every day in America. "Spiritual warfare" books that teach Christian how to "bind Satan" are hot sellers. Not only is Satan himself subject to continual verbal "binding," but a whole host of demons and "principalities and authorities" of the heavenly realm are also thus assaulted. Christians who practice this form of spiritual warfare hope to forestall calamities and sickness, convert loved ones, and turn cities, states and even the nation to righteousness. If binding Satan will do all this, we should put this new spiritual technology into practice.

However, if this practice is not Biblical, it may be more harmful than helpful. Those who teach and practice "binding and loosing" as verbal warfare against evil have several Biblical passages that they claim support the practice. The two most prominent ones are found in the book of Matthew: Matthew 16:19 and Mat- thew 12:28,29. Matthew 16:19 states, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." By combining that thought with the Matthew 12 passage, which speaks of binding the "strong man," they draw the conclusion that we have the authority to bind Satan, thus making his "goods" exposed for plundering. According to many followers of this theory, the "goods" are money, political power, people, etc. The church supposedly, therefore, has the opportunity to take world power away from Satan and deliver it to ourselves.

Binding and Loosing

The crucial issue is whether this is what Jesus meant by these teachings. What did He mean by the terms "bind" and "loose?" These words were commonly used by Jewish rabbis. New Testament scholars agree that "binding and loosing," when used in this way, retain the basic meaning that they had in the Jewish culture of the first century.

For example, the THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT states under the entries for "deo" and "luo" (the Greek words for binding and loosing used in Matthew 16:19 and elsewhere), "Jesus does not give to Peter and the other disciples any power to enchant or to free by magic. The customary meaning of the Rabbinic expressions is equally incontestable, namely, to declare forbidden or permitted, and thus to impose or remove an obligation, by a doctrinal decision."1 TDNT draws the conclusion that this is the meaning of the words as used in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18.

A. T. Robertson, one of this century's leading Greek scholars, also comments on Matthew 16:19: "To `bind' in rabbinical language is to forbid, to `loose' is to permit. Peter would be like a rabbi who passes on many points. Rabbis of the school of Hillel `loosed' many things that the school of Schammai `bound.' The teaching of Jesus is the standard for Peter and for all preachers of Christ. Note the future perfect indicative..., a state of completion. All this assumes, of course, that Peter's use of the keys will be in accord with the teaching and mind of Christ."2 Dr. Robertson's comment about the use of the future perfect tense is important. If we were to translate the passage very literally (though awkwardly in English), it would read "...whatever you loose on earth shall having been loosed in heaven." This shows that the disciples were not unilaterally to decide a matter, thus binding "heaven" to their decision. It means that their decision, as Dr. Robertson suggests, will be in line with what already was God's mind on the issue.

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