Re: A Question on Mathew 18.18

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Wed Aug 19 1998 - 02:35:15 EDT

At 07:12 98/08/17 -0500, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 7:00 PM -0700 8/16/98, D. Anthony Storm wrote:

>>I have three questions concerning a difficult statement of Jesus, which
>>my commentaries fail to adequately address. The Greek reads:
>>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?

Carl responded:

>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."

Let me comment here: Thus far I concur completely with Carls' comments.

It would be interesting to learn just how many future perfects there
actually are in the GNT. I tried to find this out by looking up Clapp and
Fribergs' Analytical Concordance/Grammatical Focus, but they do not list
the future perfect separately and I could not identify these forms from the
information given there. Does anyone know the answer to this question from
other helps and aids they have available?

>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."

Carl, I would say that this rendering changes the force of the meaning as
you have recognized it above, that "Whatever things you bind on earth will
have been bound in heaven". This wording indicates that the binding in
heaven will have taken place PRIOR TO the binding upon earth, whereas your
new rendering implies something different, namely that once something has
become bound upon earth it will continue to 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.

I would wish to alter slightly the way Carl has worded his understanding,
thusly: (a) The disciples are required to be confident that their
pronouncements do have the authority of God's will. That is to say, They
must not make pronouncements which go beyond the known and revealed will of
(b) The disciples must not (i.e., are not permitted to) make pronouncements
which are not grounded in the authority of God's will.

Carl must inform us whether he is in accord with this restated form of his
wording, or whether we differ in our understanding of these verses.

>>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.

That, I take it, is the intention of the statement. Not that this being in
touch with the will of God is something that automatically and inevitably
happens, though. Rather, this is something being required of the disciples.
That is, that in whatever it is that they bind and loose upon earth (and
there are of course different interpretations of the meaning here) the
disciples are only to bind and loose within the limits of what has already
been bound and losed in heaven (within the authority of God) - they are
being required to follow - and not exceed - the (previously determined)
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.

I would strongly dissent from this as an interpretation of the meaning - I
go along rather with Carl's cautious comment at the end: if this had been
the intended meaning, the writer would have expressed it differently, not
with the rare future perfect.

>>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.

This is indeed the crunch question which is to be asked, addressed to the
actual wording of the Greek and its meaning.

>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).

On this point, I am totally in agreement with Carl. The use of the rare and
special future perfect absolutely rules out the interpretation that the
disciples initiate the binding. Their binding and loosing must concur with
a binding and loosing which has already been settled in heaven.

>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
>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 cannot agree with Carl here, and in fact I do not see how this follows
from what he has said just before.

Rather, I would see that the future perfect here (and in Mt 16:19) acts to
state the limitations and put in position the boundaries upon apostolic
authority, which they are to know about, accept, and be careful to keep
within. Whatever they bind and loose is to be that (and only that) which
first will have been bound and loosed in heaven (i.e. by the authority of
God). This requires of course that the apostles are to make every effort to
know what God has revealed of his will.

In this, the leadership of the church of God since apostolic days should
still find their guidelines - and their boundaries. The leaders of the
church have erred when they have required things (as "of the faith") of the
people of God which go beyond what God requires (as revealed in Scripture);
and they have erred when they have permitted things which are forbidden by
God (in the Scriptures). To go beyond this into a discussion of "what
things" would be to go beyond the scope of b-greek. However, I take it that
Paul is referring to exactly this same sort of situation when he draws the
attention of the Corinthians to the requirement "that you may learn from us
the meaning of the saying, 'Do not go beyond what is written'" (hA
GEGRAPTAI; 1 Cor 4:6, NIV). So also is John in his word of warning when he
says, "Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes
beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teachng has both the
Father and the Son." (2 John 9, NRSV.)

What is at issue is keeping oneself within the teaching, restricting
oneself to
"what has been written". And the essence of this, I take it, is the eseence
also of the significance of the future perfect in Mt 16:19 and 18:18.



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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