Binding and loosing

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Binding and loosing is an originally Jewish phrase which appears in the New Testament, as well as in the Targum. In usage to bind and to loose mean simply to forbid by an indisputable authority, and to permit by an indisputable authority.[1] The Targum to a particular Psalm[2] implies that these actions were considered to be as effectual as the spell of an enchanter.[1]

The poseks had, by virtue of their ordination, the power of deciding disputes relating to Jewish law.[1] Hence the difference between the two main schools of thought in early classical Judaism were summed up by the phrase the school of Shammai binds; the school of Hillel looses.[1]

Theoretically, however, the authority of the poseks proceeded from the Sanhedrin, and there is therefore a Talmudic statement that there were three decisions made by the lower house of judgment (the Sanhedrin) to which the upper house of judgment (the heavenly one) gave its supreme sanction.[3] The claim that whatsoever [a disciple] bind[s] or loose[s] on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven, which the Gospel of Matthew attributes to Jesus,[4] is probably therefore just an adoption of a phrase popular at the time.[1]

This is probably also the meaning of the phrase when it is applied in the text to Simon Peter in particular[1][5] when Simon is invested with the power to bind and loose by Christ. This serves as the scriptural and traditional foundation for the Catholic Church's conception of papal authority, stemming from such an investiture of St. Peter, since, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, the Popes are the Successors of St. Peter.


  1. ^ a b c d e f This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "BINDING AND LOOSING", a publication now in the public domain.
  2. ^ Psalms 58:5 (verse 6 in some English versions)
  3. ^ Massoth, 23b
  4. ^ Matthew 18:18
  5. ^ Matthew 16:19

External links[edit]

  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Binding and Loosing
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: The Pope: "The expressions binding and loosing here employed are derived from the current terminology of the Rabbinic schools. A doctor who declared a thing to be prohibited by the law was said to bind, for thereby he imposed an obligation on the conscience. He who declared it to be lawful was said to loose."