Re: A Question on Mathew 18.18

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Mon Aug 17 1998 - 08:12:10 EDT


At 7:00 PM -0700 8/16/98, D. Anthony Storm wrote:
>I do not recall this passage being addressed in the recent past. Moreover,
>when I tried to use the archival search, my browser returned an error
>message. So I apologize if this has been recently discussed. I have three
>questions concerning a difficult statement of Jesus, which my commentaries
>fail to adequately address. The Greek reads:
>
>hOSA EAN DHSHTE EPI THS GHS ESTAI DEDEMENA EN OURANWi KAI hOSA EAN LUSHTE
>EPI THS GHS ESTAI LELUMENA EN OURANWi.
>
>First, the grammar appears to me to be very odd, seeing that a future
>indicative is followed by a perfect participle. Is this passage's grammar as
>unusual as it seems to be?

What we have here is a periphrastic future perfect; the future perfect is a
pretty rare bird, to begin with--I think I've seen no more than half a
dozen in 40 odd years of reading Greek; although one might readily
postulate a form like DEDHSETAI as future MP, what one more commonly sees
is a compounded form, as in the present instance, of future of EIMI +
perfect MP participle in the appropriate gender, number and case. So, if by
this passage's grammar you mean the Morphology, I don't think the form we
see here is so exceptional; what is rare in Koiné as it is rare in ancient
Greek in general is the future perfect.

>Second, translations tend often to translate the passage as "Whatever you
>bind will be bound" etc. Should we not translate the unusual(?) construction
>as follows: "Whatever things you bind will be a thing having already been
>bound" etc? I realize this is not good English, but I am trying to convey
>the sense of the Greek as I see it. It would seem to me that the grammar is
>so unusual as to require such a translation. This grammatical construction
>(including the use of the verbs DEW and LUW) is also found at Matthew 16.19.
>(John 20.23 conveys what seems to be a similar intent, but the grammar is
>different, as are the two verbs used.)

I think the more 'literal' English version would be: "Whatever things you
bind on earth WILL HAVE BEEN BOUND in heaven." But personally I would
prefer to convey the force of the future perfect as a future stative sense:
"Whatever things you bind on earth WILL STAND BOUND in heaven."
>
>Third, what would this passage mean?
>a) Are the disciples being given the authority to make declarations to which
>heaven will assent?

This is, of course, a matter of interpretation, and as such, I assume that
even those who agree on the meaning of the Greek text will express
different opinions about the meaning. My own view is NOT as you have stated
it (that heaven, i.e. God, will assent to decisions that the
disciples/church makes) but rather that (a) at the least: the disciples may
be confident that their decisions will have the authority of God's will;
and perhaps also (b) the disciples cannot make decisions that will NOT be
grounded in the fixed authority of God's will.

>b) Will the apostles be so in touch with God that they will declare
>something bound that has already been bound. Here they would follow the
>heavenly will.

This is, in fact, my own understanding of the sentence, as I have expressed
it in (b) above.

>c) Will it be that when they bind something, it will be so bound that it
>will be as if it had already been bound? This is similar to 'a' above.

I would re-express this as 'When the disciples bind something, they will
discover--and those who submit to their authority should assume--that their
'binding' gives voice to the exact will of God. Personally, I think that
this interpretation is a plausible one, but it depends upon reading ESTAI
DEDEMENA with less than the absolute force of the future perfect tense;
personally, I think that if this had been the intent of the writer, he/she
would have instead written DEQHSETAI--a future passive.

>In other words, on the basis of the grammar, does the one who binds initiate
>the heavenly binding, or follow suit?
>
>With this third question, I hope we can we confine ourselves to the
>implications of the Greek. It is not my intent to be sectarian. If the list
>owners feel that this third question should be excluded, that is fine by me.
>I am not settled in this matter, and have no axe to grind.

As co-chair of B-Greek I very much appreciate this clear and direct
statement of the limited range of your inquiry (I could wish that others
had and would so limit their inquiries and responses!). Let's stick, in
this instance, with the possible senses to be derived from THIS PARTICULAR
text, and NOT try to bring other NT texts to bear on our understanding of
it. That is to say, let's NOT endeavor to turn this question into a thread
on the NT doctrine of apostolic (or Petrine) authority in the church.

As I've already indicated above, I think that there are two plausible
readings of this text, (a) a binding decision of the disciples will have as
its basis the will of God; or (b) a binding decision of the disciples may
be UNDERSTOOD to have as its basis the will of God. (a) is a pure
theological declaration, while (b) seems to be a pragmatic-rhetorical
assertion of the binding authority of the decision of the disciples.

To return to the last question as posed, "does the one who binds initiate
the heavenly binding, or follow suit," my own judgment is that the
deliberate choice by the writer of the future perfect indicative here
precludes any notion that the disciples initiate the heavenly binding (that
would, as I've said before, more likely have expression in a future passive
form such as DEQHSETAI). But from a pragmatic rhetorical perspective on the
function of this assertion at the very center of Matthew's Jesus-discourse
on church discipline, I think that the intent of the statement is to
constate the parallelism of the collective authority of the disciples and
of the heavenly will of God: i.e. both the disciples and those subject to
their discipline should be fully assured of the binding authority of their
decisions.

Another way of expressing this notion of the parallelism might be to say
that the protasis of the condition expresses the space-time dimension of
church authority while the apodosis expresses its eternal dimension. It
would probably be wrong to assert that an action in the space-time
dimension DETERMINES what is true in the eternal dimension, but it seems
pretty clearly implicit that an action in the space-time dimension REFLECTS
what is true in the eternal dimension.

I think this HAS been discussed previously on the list. If I can find the
references I will cite them in a subsequent message.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cconrad@yancey.main.nc.us
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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